SALT LAKE CITY — Vandals have scratched a panel known as the Blue Buffalo out of existence in the last three weeks, destroying priceless rock art created about 200 years ago in Utah's southeast desert.
The decimated rock art featured a shield, several figures and a bison painted on a large sandstone panel tucked into a canyon about 15 miles northwest of Moab near Mill Canyon.
The 16-foot-long panel was unusual because of the blue paint and the depiction of a bison in motion, said Bruce Louthan, an archeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Moab.
Louthan said the bison was either leaning down to eat or preparing to charge. Much rock art shows figures standing stiffly with no intended action, he said.
Louthan said bison did not typically roam in the area of the pictograph, which means the artist, likely from the Ute tribe, had the ability to travel.
Blue paint is less common than red or brown paint, he said, although the paint substance came from minerals in nearby rocks.
The vandalism was discovered last weekend by a local rock-art enthusiast who visits the site often, according to a spokesman at the BLM.
The BLM oversees 2 million acres in the southeast region of Utah, where there are hundreds of pieces of rock art--both petroglyphs, which are pecked into the rock surface, and pictographs, which are painted.
The destroyed panel was priceless and cannot be replaced, said Maggie Wyatt, field manager for the Moab BLM.
"We don't know the meaning of rock art; it could be religious or artistic," Wyatt said. "It is sacred and has deep meaning for the Native Americans who made them. We should respect that."
The rock art was likely "abraded" with a rough surface, possibly another rock, officials said. The destruction could have taken as little as 15 minutes. Louthan said the panel was popular with locals and attracted a steady stream of visitors.
Conservationists do not typically restore, or repaint, rock art, Louthan said. The BLM said there is too much rock art to fence off all the sites.
The BLM is concerned that several sites have been vandalized in the last month. The agency has no leads on who may have destroyed the Blue Buffalo.
The BLM offers a standing $500 reward for information in vandalism cases, and $5,000 more is being offered for information about the Blue Buffalo vandalism.
Information can be reported by calling (800) 722-3998.