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High-tech ways considered to guard Indian monument

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 22, 2001

CARRIZO PLAIN NATIONAL MONUMENT — For a thousand years, American Indians have made Painted Rock their canvas. 

The horseshoe-shaped sandstone monolith is known around the world for its red ocher drawings of horned figures and geometric shapes. 

Unfortunately, it also attracts modern scribblers. Now, federal and state officials are considering cameras, satellites and other modern technology to preserve the ancient site from vandals who write or chip their names into the rock. 

“We get graffiti at this site two to three times a year,” said Duane Christian, an archaeologist with the federal Bureau of Land Management. 

The rock is in the national monument created by President Clinton in January on 204,000 acres of grasslands between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield. 

Policing the rock is difficult because the area is sparsely populated and the monolith is several miles from the nearest building. 

Vandals can be charged with a felony that carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Graffiti writers also violate religious strictures. The rock is sacred to the Chumash Indians, who hold summer solstice festivals there. 

In 1991, volunteers removed the worst damage. And recently, Christian and a half-dozen computer experts, engineers and law enforcement advisers visited Painted Rock to discuss ways of preventing further desecration. 

“This is such an internationally renowned site, our job is to protect what’s left of it,” explained Ron Fellows, field manager for the BLM in Bakersfield. 

Suggestions range from placing cameras to photographing cars entering the site to using an electronic beam to alert observers miles away. One problem with the beam idea, though, is that an elk or antelope could wander by and set off a false alarm. 

Another idea would be to monitor the site via satellite “remote sensing,” although Fellows said that is “probably impractical” because of it is so costly. 

Fellows said that once he gets a proposal from the research team, he will go to Washington, D.C., with a budget request. 

Meanwhile, low-tech sometimes has worked. One woman who carved her initials inside a heart on Painted Rock was caught because she had signed the registration book at the visitor’s center. 

The oldest graffiti on Painted Rock dates back to the 1870s, Christian said. But writings over 50 years old are considered historical and the government cannot remove them.