Two Vandals at Lake Mead Toppled Rock Formations Made From 140-Million-Year-Old Dunes

Authorities are seeking information about the men, whose crime was captured on video on April 7

Two people hiking among red sandstone formations
The incident took place on the popular Redstone Trail in Nevada's Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead National Recreation Area / Andrew Cattoir

Two men were caught on video knocking over a Nevada rock formation that dates back millions of years. 

The video shared online earlier this month shows the men—one in a red shirt, the other in a black shirt—pushing and yanking on red sandstone formations at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A young girl in a white shirt stands in the background watching; at one point, she can be heard shouting, “Don’t fall!”

The National Park Service (NPS), which manages the site, is asking for the public’s help in identifying the two men. Authorities are looking for anyone who recognizes the men or any witnesses who were on the Redstone Trail on the evening of April 7.

“National parks are some of the most special, treasured and protected areas of our country,” says NPS in a statement. “To protect these natural and cultural resources for this and future generations, all visitors to national parks are expected to follow park laws and regulations and practice leave no trace principles to minimize their impact on park lands.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by TouronsOfYellowstone (@touronsofyellowstone)

According to the park’s website, the rock formations were made from sand dunes that stood at the site some 140 million years ago. Gradually, geologic forces sculpted those dunes into hard sandstone.

“These aren’t just rocks. They’re ancient resources,” says Neal Desai, a senior program director at the National Parks Conservation Association, to the Washington Post’s Andrea Sachs. “They were formed millions of years ago. That’s why we as a country have set them aside and have ensured that they will be equally owned by all of us forever.”

In the meantime, park rangers are investigating the incident. The suspects could face federal charges, and their punishment could “range from six months in jail and a $5,000 fine… all the way up to a felony offense,” as John Haynes, a spokesperson for the recreation area, tells KVVU’s Kim Passoth.

“This almost feels like a personal attack in a way,” he says, adding: “It’s pretty appalling. It is kind of disgusting.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lake Mead National Recreation Area (@lakemeadnps)

Established in 1964 as the country’s first national recreation area, Lake Mead is located roughly 30 miles east of Las Vegas. The park extends for 1.5 million acres and sees six million visitors per year. As such, rangers can’t be everywhere, watching everyone, all at once. Haynes encourages visitors to call and report any destructive activities they see—or, if they’re out of cell phone range, to capture photos and videos to later share with authorities.

“You don’t have to engage people,” he adds. “Many people don’t feel safe engaging others out there, and that’s okay. It’s really important to let us know.”

This is not the first—and probably not the last—time visitors have vandalized national parks. Last year alone, vandals sprayed red paint on trees, rocks and cairns at Acadia National Park; smashed windows and kicked in doors at Mammoth Cave National Park; and damaged the historic church at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. In 2022, two men were photographed defacing the popular Moran Point overlook on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. In 2021, vandals defaced prehistoric rock art at Big Bend National Park.

“Unfortunately, it’s common,” says Jordan Fifer, an NPS spokesperson, to the New York Times’ Rebecca Carballo. “We rarely, however, see something of this nature where the people in the video seem so intent on destruction.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.