Damage in the Desert | The plan to stop vandals striking Death Valley

Despite a crackdown, Death Valley is attracting an unwanted type of tourist. See the damage … and the plan to stop the vandals. (KSNV)

John Sisco admits he had no idea what to expect.

“I'm sort of like most people – Death Valley?” said Sisco. “What's there?”

Sisco is visiting Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America and one of the biggest draws in Death Valley National Park.

“It's beautiful,” said Sisco. “And I plan on coming back.”

He's hardly alone. Last year, 1.2 million people visited the park, with travelers braving the wind and the heat.

“The record for the hottest temperature in the world was set here in Death Valley National Park. It was 134 degrees, set back in 1910,” said Public Information Officer Linda Slater.

But popularity can also be a curse.

From graffiti to visitors driving on sensitive salt beds, not everyone is showing the park proper respect.

One of the worst examples happened in March when fossilized animal footprints were cut right out of the earth and stolen.

RELATED LINK | Fossils stolen from Death Valley National Park

The fossils were estimated at 3 to 5 million years old.

While park staff doesn't know how it happened, there are clues. Rangers now hope to identify several men who were seen in the area at the time of the theft who may be possible witnesses to the crime.

“The whole idea of national parks is that we have them to enjoy and preserve them for future generations,” said Slater.

These issues aren't unique to Death Valley.

Last year, visitation at our national parks set an all-time record of 325 million people, compared to 307 million the year before.

GALLERY | Damage in the desert as vandals strike Death Valley

Trash, traffic, and vandalism problems now have some parks such as Zion and Yellowstone reassessing crowd control plans. As for Death Valley, the area is massive.

“It's 3.4 million acres,” said Slater. “And that puts it as the largest national park unit outside of Alaska.”

The beauty of the park is undeniable, and fortunately, the vast majority of visitors take pictures and move on.

But for those who do damage, the potential fines are stiff – from $700 up to $5,000, depending on how much damage is done.

One case is still being investigated of vandalism at Devils Hole, home to the endangered pupfish.

RELATED LINK | Three men accused of vandalizing Devils Hole and killing a pupfish are identified

Last spring, three men were caught on surveillance video entering the site illegally. One man left his boxers behind after swimming in the water, killing one fish.

“Those folks broke through a chain link fence, shot out some security equipment, and went down into an area that's obviously restricted where these endangered species of pupfish live, so they were out to do harm,” said Slater. “And most people aren't like that. Most people are not out to do bad things.”

Slater says, since then, the fence was rebuilt and security has tightened.

As for visitors, not everyone is looking forward to those ridiculous summer temperatures in Death Valley.

But when it comes to vandalism:

“That's way up on my list of worst things to do,” said Sisco.

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