Woody Smith paused Monday to admire the view as he walked past a manzanita shrub on Red Rock Canyon's Lost Creek trail only to see the sight that vandals had left: 2-foot-tall letters, "NHC," glaring in maroon spray paint near the top of a beige boulder.
"Oh my God," he said, gazing at the gaudy sight with his wife, Kathy, and their friend Linda Glanister. "That's terrible. There's all that beauty and some knucklehead comes along."
That "knucklehead," who marred the visit the Smiths had made from Lake Orion, Mich., to the scenic national conservation area west of Las Vegas, left other damage to the pristine rock shelter, including a name, "Pee Wee Rodo," and the words "Nevada Has Cronic."
In all, three prehistoric rock art panels were vandalized with the same maroon spray-painted graffiti.
Archaeologists think Southern Paiutes made cultural paintings, or pictographs, there centuries ago until as recently as the 1800s. One rock art panel that was vandalized contains a petroglyph, or stone etching, that depicts a figure similar to an arched window divided into six sections.
A sign posted by Bureau of Land Management officials says the vandalism was reported to law enforcement authorities Nov. 14 and is the latest tagging incident in the national conservation area in places that feature ancient American Indian art.
"None of this damage is as extensive as seen here," the sign reads, asking anyone with information about the vandalism to call the BLM Law Enforcement Hotline, 702-515-5151.
On Monday, the BLM announced in a news release that the Friends of Red Rock Canyon and the Conservation Lands Foundation are offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to the conviction of the suspect or suspects. Bureau officials estimate the cost of restoring the site will be $10,000.
The crime is a felony violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and carries a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in jail.
Pat Williams, spokeswoman for Friends of Red Rock Canyon, said restoring the site will be costly and time-consuming.
"We're going to have to bring in a restoration expert," she said. "It's going to be labor-intensive, and we have to be extremely careful. That's our heritage."
Before the Smiths continued their hike up Lost Creek trail to the seasonal waterfall, Kathy Smith speculated that the vandal or vandals marred the site with graffiti to get attention.
"We've got goofy people in Michigan too," she said.
Her friend Glanister, from Las Vegas, also was disgusted.
"It's a shame to deface something that's so beautiful and has been there a million years," she said.
In the BLM news release, archaeologist Mark Boatwright said the graffiti at the Lost Creek rock shelter "is the most severe damage to archaeological resources we've seen in Red Rock for several years."
In 2006, vandals defaced a panel of charcoal-painted rock art that had graced a remote part of the Sandstone Quarry area for more than a century.
In all, about 45 images depicting men wearing cowboy hats on horseback, women and children holding hands, horses, pack mules and deer were scribbled over with the edge of a rock, as if someone tried to erase the work of a Mojave Desert artist from about the 1880s.
During a hike to see the damage inside a shallow cave in September 2006, Boatwright remarked, "This is somebody being mean-spirited or vindictive for one reason or another. One notch above a grapefruit is what you've got to be to do something like that."
Contact Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.