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Inside the dark, cliffside cave last occupied by the people of Frijoles Canyon some 500 years ago, the markings are clearly visible.
“2008,” the ancient wall reads. “I love you,” with a heart etched into the soft volcanic tuff.
“Oh, man,” art conservator Larry Humetewa muttered softly as he bent to inspect the damage.
This is the largest of the cave-like rooms – called “cavates” – accessible to the 300,000 people who troop through Bandelier National Monument each year.
It underwent graffiti removal work just recently; now it will need more.
Vandalism is just one of many threats to the fragile archaeological sites that are the heart of national parks and monuments in the arid West.
They're hammered by sun and rain, by freezes and thaws, by wind and the abrasive sand it carries. They're invaded by pests and loved to death by human visitors who can't resist touching.
In short, the ruins are in ruins.
For the past decade, a special program within the National Park Service has been struggling to combat the deterioration.
At 45 parks in eight states stretching from Texas to California, the Vanishing Treasures program has assessed, documented, stabilized and conserved sites. In some cases, it has udone damage from earlier preservation efforts.
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