Joe Braun, a photographer and avid hiker, could hardly believe it.
Someone had used a permanent marker to inscribe a heart and an Instagram account name on a rock at Angels Landing in Zion National park.
"I spat some water at the writing and rubbed a bit just to see if it would come off easily,” Braun later wrote on Facebook. “It would not ... It makes me very sad that so many people don't know how to behave in our national parks."
Then Braun, a professional photographer who has shot many photos at Zion National Park and others, took it one step further: He snapped a photo of his upraised middle finger at the graffiti, and posted it on Facebook.
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“Please pardon my vulgar hand gesture, but this is how I feel about people who vandalize our national parks,” he wrote.
After a “swift and severe backlash” on social media by people who tracked down the Instagram address in the photo, the vandal contacted park authorities to confess, Zion National Park officials told the Deseret News. The Instagram account has since been deleted.
Crews cleaned the rock Monday, but restoration can be a long and costly process, park officials told the publication. The vandal, whom authorities did not identify, faces possible criminal and civil penalties.
Braun told McClatchy on Tuesday that he worried the graffiti might encourage others to follow suit.
“I always fear that once others see this sort of thing, they will feel a green light to do their own painting or inscription at the same spot,” he said.
Established in 1919, Zion National Park covers 229 square miles in southwest Utah and had 4.5 million visitors in 2017. The park includes desert, evergreen forest, woodland and riparian environments.