Rocks in Their Heads: What Were the Scout Leaders Who Vandalized Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park Thinking?

Every now again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters, Humvee owners and members of Congress.

It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Hmm … What can we do today that will make our families and friends forever ashamed they know us, and everybody else start conversations with, ‘Hey, did you hear about the jerks …’”

I speak, of course, of Glenn Taylor and Dave Hall, the (now former) Boy Scout leaders who decided it not only would be a good idea to knock over an ancient desert rock formation in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, but that they would post a video of their deed online.

The video shows Taylor lumber up to the car-sized, mushroom-shaped formation, estimated to be about 170 million years old, and begin rocking it back and forth, while Hall narrates, in a singsong voice, ““Wiggle it … just a little bit …”

When the rock stem support finally snaps and the top rolls to the ground, Hall whoops, “Yeah!” and explodes in maniacal laughter, while Taylor and an unidentified male in the background dance joyfully, pumping their arms in triumph.

In the video Hall compounds the egregiousness of their sin by claiming he and Taylor were fearful the formation was loose and would fall on the Scouts or other passersby.

“This is about saving lives,” he proclaims.

In case you haven’t seen the video, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHgpiMp1JqA.

I guess in a culture that inspired the “Jackass” movie series and promotes the promulgation of all sorts of behavior on video we shouldn’t be so shocked by a couple of yahoos pushing over rocks, and I was happy to see the Boy Scouts of America quickly discharged the pair without so much as the Scouting equivalent of a court martial.

Taylor and Hall now face criminal charges, and if I were the prosecutor I would recommend a punishment befitting the crime, invoking my favorite legendary Greek, Sisyphus, the evil king who was sentenced to an eternity of repeatedly rolling an enormous boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down.

I’d like to see Taylor forced to push that huge chunk of sandstone back on its pedestal, and then have it topple over. Hall would have to man the camera, each time urging, “Come on, Glenn, almost got it … easy does it … one more … ohhhhh, bleep! Try again …”

Incidentally, there’ another twist to the story that reflects even more shabbily on Taylor’s behavior, if that’s possible. Utah’s CBS affiliate KUTV reported he had filed a personal injury suit last month over a 2009 car crash that he claimed left him "debilitated," with "great pain and suffering, disability, impairment, loss of joy of life."

When KUTV reporter Chris Jones tracked him down and commented, "You don't seem very debilitated," Taylor replied, "You didn't see how hard I pushed."

I hope the defendant in Taylor’s lawsuit files a new motion.

When I first saw the video I mistakenly thought it had been shot in a similar canyon in Utah, which I had visited with my wife, son and his friend only a few months ago. That canyon contains sandstone, siltstone and shale deposited during a the Eocene Epoch some 38 to 50 million years ago – quite a bit later than those in Goblin Valley, but similarly striking, elegant and fragile. We were virtually the only visitors that day and I remember thinking at the time how easy it would be for vandals to trash the place.

Turns out, sadly, I was right.

I also thought about a boulder closer to home, at Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton.

Those who have been strolling or jogging out to the southern tip of the bluff for years will remember an enormous rock perched close to the edge of a cliff overlooking Fishers Island Sound. Over the decades the rock had been at least 10 feet from the lip, but constant erosion from rain, wind, waves and people clambering up and down brought it much closer.

“One day,” I told some friends, “let’s go out here with a winch and a chain and pull it farther back.” We made vague plans that never materialized.

Not long ago I strolled out to the bluff and immediately noticed something was different.

“What the ...?”

Sure enough, someone had pushed the rock over the cliff. Pieces of shattered granite lay scattered 15 feet below.

I felt the same way people in Franconia, New Hampshire, must have reacted when they woke up on May 3, 2003 and discovered the Old Man of the Mountain, a rock formation celebrated as the state symbol, had collapsed during the night.

Gone forever.

Geologists assume the giant, overhanging rock simply broke free and crashed to the valley floor, but now I wonder – where were Glenn Taylor and Dave Hall that night?

 

 

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