Vandals topple landmark

Vandals topple landmark – Montana’s natural Eye of the Needle landmark destroyed

The Eye of the Needle is … er, was a beloved natural landmark–a stunning stone arch that overlooked the Missouri River in a protected wilderness area of Montana.

But on Memorial Day weekend this year, rangers were shocked to discover that the top of the arch had crashed to the ground. Did the arch collapse of natural causes, or was foul play involved?

At first, it seemed that wind or lightning could have toppled the fragile arch. The area has a long history of geologic upheaval. Some 100,000 years ago, the rocky landscape was a sandy beach at the edge of an enormous inland sea. Over time, layers of sand pressed on layers of sand to create sandstone, a kind of sedimentary rock.

About 10,000 years ago, long after the sea had receded, a glacier scanted the region and carved odd formations, like pillars and buttes. Then erosion (wearing away of rock by wind and rain) created the loop in the Eye of the Needle, says geologist Joanna Thamke.

When rangers examined the fallen arch, they found footprints nearby, and piles of trash and beer bottles. They noticed that several smaller sandstone pinnacles had also toppled and concluded the destruction was the work of vandals.

An $11,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest of the culprits, who could face 10 years in jail and $250,000 in fines.

Montanans, meanwhile, are debating whether to restore the arch. Some have proposed sculpting a new sandstone arch; others want to cement the top back together. But many Montanans nix both ideas. “They think we shouldn’t set an example that natural landmarks are easy to replace,” says ranger Rob Birzell.

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