Artist Is Charged For Desert Design

An Iowa artist has been been accused of defacing public land for his role in scratching a huge geometric pattern in a southeast Oregon desert.

Artist Bill Witherspoon said the effort was meant to be ``an artistic experiment on a grand scale,'' but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management called it ``willful defacement of public lands.''

A National Guard pilot on a training flight spotted the quarter-mile-wide Hindu meditation symbol last week in a dry lake bed north of the Alvord Desert.

Witherspoon said in a letter to the Burns Times-Herald newspaper that he and four companions laid out the intricate diagram using binoculars, sticks, wires ``and about 12 miles of string.''

They dug the drawing about six inches deep with an antique garden cultivator between July 31 and Aug. 9, he said.

The federal agency said Witherspoon will be required to post $100 bail in U.S. District Court. Should he contest the accusation and lose, he could face a $1,000 fine or a year in jail, a spokesman said yesterday.

Witherspoon, 48, of Fairfield, Iowa, said he and his companions do not intend to argue.

BLM officials said they were especially angry because the design location is part of a proposed desert wilderness area. They said the damage has been compounded by the arrival of curious passersby.