Graffiti Artist Defaces 10 National Parks—and Instagrams It

The vandal left a trail of clues on social media sites, prompting a National Parks Service investigation.

(Photo: Tumblr)

Oct 22, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

How can you get away with painting graffiti in some of the United States’ most iconic national parks?

If you’re dumb enough to boast of your exploits on social media, you can’t.

That’s how Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd, an avid hiker and blogger, may have cracked a case linking vandalism in 10 different national parks to one clueless Instagrammer.

Yosemite vandalism near Vernal Falls.
(Photo: Courtesy

“As I went though my daily ritual, I stumbled across a Reddit thread that showed a picture of graffiti discovered by a packer along a trail near Vernal Falls [in Yosemite National Park],” she wrote on her blog, Calipidder. “This graffiti was signed with a name 'creepytings.' ”

"Creepytings" led to a social media trail that included multiple posts on a now-deleted Instagram account as well as a Tumblr page displaying graffiti drawings at Crater Lake, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Joshua Tree national parks.

The photos show paintings of human heads—often done in a tribal theme—defacing some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

While the original Reddit post was taken down, another post showing the vandalism caught the attention of National Park Service investigator Steve Yu.

Now the park service is looking into more than 10 incidents of vandalism connected to the social media posts, according to park service spokesman Jeffrey Olson.

“I’m just thankful for the original post on Reddit that got this ball rolling,” Sowards-Emmerd said in an interview. “That said, if it hadn’t been posted, I doubt it would be much longer before she was caught. Signing her vandalism with an Instagram account name was not the brightest idea, right?”

Crater Lake vandalism. (Photo: Courtesy

Using acrylic paint on the nation’s most beautiful landscapes wasn’t the smartest idea either. How do we know it was acrylic? Modern Hiker, another blog that has written about the incident, captured screen grabs of @creepytings Instagram comments in response to a concerned commenter.

Death Valley vandalism. (Photo: Courtesy

The person using the handle creepytings could not be reached for comment.

Defacing national park property is a federal misdemeanor that can lead to six months in prison. “Vandalism is not only a violation of the law, but it also damages and sometimes destroys often irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans,” Olson said. “It is not only criminal; it is thoughtless.”

Sowards-Emmerd said graffiti is common at many of the more popular park sites she visits.

“I think it’s a combination of ignorance and arrogance,” Sowards-Emmerd said. “Unfortunately, in this case, it seems to be the latter. Her Instagram comments made it more than clear that she was proud of her work and knew that it was wrong.”

By Wednesday afternoon, all the photos showing the graffiti had been deleted from the creepytings Tumblr account. “I dun f--ked uuuuup,” read the sole remaining post.