An iconic natural arch near Moab, Utah, was vandalized last week, and photographs widely shared on social media have brought RV hitch owner Ryan Andersen and his family under scrutiny. Andersen is the owner of Andersen Hitches.
A customer of the company spotted a photo of the vandalism online and sounded the alarm.
The incident sparked nationwide outrage on social media, where many identified the family posed in front of graffiti etched into Corona Arch, a famous sandstone feature west of Moab between Canyonlands and Arches national parks.
The graffiti in question include the lines “18” — a reference to the current year — and the initials “R” and “J” with a heart drawn between them. They were scratched into the base of the arch, in an area that features prominently in most nature photographs of the area.
The arch is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. According to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Melodie Rydalch, the BLM is authorized to issue a citation against Andersen. “The U.S. Attorney’s office will likely be filing charges in the case,” she said.
Federal law makes it a Class A misdemeanor to “willfully deface, disturb, remove or destroy any personal property, or structures, or any scientific, cultural, archaeological or historic resource, natural object or area” on public lands. The maximum penalty for such a violation is a $100,000 fine and one year in prison.
Andersen later apologized on his blog writing, in part: “While hiking in the Moab area with my family, I drew with a sandstone shard, a heart with my and my wife’s initials and the year above it. At that moment, I foolishly thought I was conveying my love for my wife when, in fact, I was tarnishing the experience for others who also want to enjoy magnificent scenery. My actions were wrong. I am extremely sorry for my conduct.”