New Mexico Rangers Demand People Stop Hiding Painted Rocks at National Park

by Amy Myers

Rangers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park have found an increasing amount of painted rocks along their trails and sites. Although pretty to look at, the rocks are an unwelcome member of the area. Since finding more of these objects, officials have asked patrons to stop placing them around the park.

Leaving painted rocks and pebbles behind at parks, trails and other recreational locations has become a recent yet popular trend among visitors. Fellow hikers will leave these small works of art along the way for others to find. Those that pick up these rocks can then relocate them to another natural spot or create a painted rock of their own. This trend became especially popular during the height of the pandemic when social distancing regulations had many feeling too disconnected from the rest of society. As an effort to keep spirits high from a distance, many left encouraging messages on rocks for others to find.

However, Carlsbad Caverns’ rangers are more concerned about the violation of the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.

“Rangers found these painted rocks while hiking in Slaughter Canyon,” the park wrote in a post on Facebook. “Although leaving painted rocks behind for strangers to discover may seem like a fun activity, it is not appropriate in national parks. Please minimize your impacts on your public lands by not leaving trash or other items behind.”

Visitors Respond to Park’s Stance on Painted Rocks

While the painted rocks themselves don’t necessarily cause any immediate damage to the environment, park rangers worry that leaving these objects could lead to folks leaving more destructive litter behind. As a result, they’ve maintained a firm stance on any items left behind at the National Park, no matter the intention.

However, some parkgoers aren’t so quick to agree with this perspective.

“I think making that particular form of ‘graffiti’, into a bad thing, is beyond the scope of reason,” one visitor said in the comments. “The park service sure does put up its own fair share of supposed eye sores, all over this Nation, and abroad. To call small, and often times beautifully painted stones, to call them trash is rather ironic when there are so many overflowing trash bins across the park system. At some point this has to be seen for what it is: do as we say, and not as we do.”

“The audacity of someone to do something harmless,” another concurred.

Meanwhile, others are happy to see the National Park take action against all forms of littering.

“These rocks promote belonging and connections. There are many great locations to share but not in national parks. Let nature and story lead the experience, not an altered rock,” one supporter wrote.

“Thank you for not sugarcoating littering. Pretty litter is still litter, period. No excuses, no exceptions,” another said.