IVINS — A group of 10 teens under the age of 18 were briefly detained and then cited by authorities after the larger of the two lava tubes at Snow Canyon State Park was vandalized Friday afternoon.

A spray-painted rock face inside the larger of two lava tubes in Snow Canyon State Park is seen in a high-exposure photo that makes it more apparent in the otherwise dark cave, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 16, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Rangers at the park were alerted around 12:45 p.m. that a group was seen defacing the inside of the lava tube with spray paint off the Butterfly Trail located about three miles from the park’s southern entrance. 

Witnesses said they saw several teens hiking back to their vehicles, then driving off in a silver Jeep Wrangler and a red Volkswagen sports utility vehicle and going south down Snow Canyon Drive inside the park boundaries. 

A Santa Clara-Ivins police vehicle was ready to intercept the vehicles at the park entrance but a park ranger caught up to the two vehicles and pulled them over in the Sand Dunes parking lot.

“There’s vandalism, yeah,” Ranger Colin Keene told St. George News at the scene, adding in reference to those suspected, “They’re all under 18.” 

Keene questioned a group of seven boys and three girls that he said were all locals. The vehicles had Utah license plates.  

St. George News is not revealing the identities or faces of those cited because of their age. 

The cave itself was about a 45-minute hike on the Butterfly Trail from the main drive and features some of the youngest rock in Southern Utah. According to the park, the tube was formed 27,000 years ago by a now-dormant volcano. 

Inside the lava tube itself about 25 yards in, one rock had a faded happy face in orange spray paint. Further in, a rock face was sprayed in white paint that seemed to be applied around circular objects, making it seem like they were the shadows of people.

Hikers are seen exiting the larger of two lava tubes in Snow Canyon State Park, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 16, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

One of the girls briefly detained by police was holding a volleyball, while a boy was holding a football. Nearby, the ranger removed several pieces of possible evidence from the vehicles, including a full Minky Couture bag. 

Washington County Sheriff’s deputies then arrived and cited the teens. No arrests were made as all 10 of those questioned were underage. 

Parents were contacted by deputies and some arrived to pick up their children. 

“It was just kids being kids and doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and now they’re paying the consequences,” Deputy Stephen Iverson said. 

He added there will still be further investigation as to the extent of the damage and that will determine the ultimate price of the citations. 

According to Utah State Code, there may be a fine up to the full amount of the estimated cost to restore the damaged land, but that fee is reduced if those who commit the vandalism help clean it up. Adults who deface public land with graffiti and are convicted face more than 100 hours of community service as a misdemeanor.

Back near the lava tube, Steven Thatcher was visiting the park from Northern Utah and had just checked out the cave. The paint was still fresh enough to leave the scent inside the otherwise cold and dank cave. While the vandalism was subtle, Thatcher still noticed it.

“It’s sad to see,” Thatcher said. “It’s kind of frustrating that someone would go in there and kind of ruin that for other people going in there.”

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings.  

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