ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — El Morro National Monument is famous for its 2,000 or so signatures, dates and petroglyphs carved into the soft sandstone of Inscription Rock by pueblo Indians 700 to 1,000 years ago and by early explorers, starting with Don Juan de Oñate in 1605.
The National Park Service wasn’t looking to add any more.
But two Korean students at the University of New Mexico allegedly inscribed their monikers — “Super Duper Dana” and “Gabriel” — within a few feet of a sign that reads, “It is unlawful to mark or deface El Morro Rock,” and on a panel that includes a historical inscription, “Pedro Romero 1758.”
The carvings have incurred the wrath of the park service, possible criminal penalties for the students and a repair tab of nearly $30,000.
Dana Choi and Seung Hoon Oh appeared in U.S. District Court last week to face charges of defacing an archaeological resource on public lands during a mid-October trip to the site in western New Mexico.
The two appeared before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen B. Molzen and were released on their own recognizance after being required to surrender their passports and visas.
National Park Service employees at El Morro discovered Oct. 13 two new inscriptions had been illegally scraped into the sandstone cliffs of the monument’s most prominent historical feature, Inscription Rock. The monument, which incorporates an 875-room prehistoric village ruin, is “an antiquity of national significance and incomparable scientific value” and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
A criminal complaint filed says El Morro’s visitor register for Oct. 13 showed an international group visiting the monument — UNM Office of International Programs. One visitor had signed the register as Dana Choi from South Korea, and in the comment section had written, “Super Duper Dana Choi.”
Four days later, Choi posted photos on Facebook of herself with a group of international students at the Grand Canyon.
In November, a National Park Service special agent and a park ranger interviewed Choi and Seung Hoon Oh, whose Facebook page included a photo of him with Choi and another companion at Inscription Rock.
Oh admitted using a rock to carve “Gabriel” after walking around a split rail fence erected to keep visitors away from the rock face, and Choi admitted carving “Super Duper Dana,” the complaint says.
“Both state they struggle with reading English and misunderstood the signs, believing they (the signs) stated it was legal to carve into the cliff,” the complaint says.
The park service official estimate for restoration: $29,782.
Molzen ordered the Korean consulate to be notified of the charges.