I just recently completed two wonderful photo expeditions to remote areas in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah that provided me with breathtaking views and amazing photos. But they also left me disappointed in the utter disregard some people have with respect to the land.
Granted, there are major problems in this world regarding pollution and damage to the environment on a global scale. That is not the purpose of this article, which focuses on the smaller, more localized problems that can be attributed to individuals rather than entire populations. While not as grand in scale, these issues are equally important.
In April of this year I spent a third of the month in the wilderness both car camping and backpacking. In nearly every location I visited, there were signs of human tampering be it candy wrappers, cigarette butts, toilet paper, glass, food, right down to trampled vegetation, car/atv “donuts” in the ground (caused by intentionally spinning the rear of the vehicle in a circle pattern), and more.
All of these problems were found in remote areas – places that very few people get the chance to see due to the difficulty in getting there and/or the fact that they are not well known yet. I say “yet” because in the internet age, it is only a matter of time before previous “hidden” locations become well known and heavily traveled, making this article even more important. Popular locations have even greater problems with trash and human scarring.
I spent a total of three nights on two separate occasions in April camping at one of these small, “hidden” locations in Northern Arizona. The remoteness of this area will hopefully slow the damage already started by those who have been here simply because many people will not be able to get to this location. Miles and miles of deep sand, rugged roads, and no cell phone coverage make this a very hazardous location to travel to. Inexperienced and unprepared drivers who try to visit often find themselves stuck, causing even more damage to the area.
These ATV drivers could find a more appropriate place to park than where they did!?!?
This past Friday night and Saturday morning my wife Marci and I had this place to ourselves. But just before noon, some 20 people on 14 ATV’s stopped here for lunch. Rather than parking in an open area just a couple hundred yards from the entrance – an area that is ideal for parking – they all proceeded to park off the sand and on the sandstone rock formation itself! An area which I have also seen tour vehicles parked.
Unfortunately, this entrance to an amazing landscape has been permanently scarred by engine oil as well as tire marks and scraps from car undercarriages. It is also too easy to find pieces of trash here as well. Marci and I spent time picking up the trash we found – some of which was definitely from the lunch group.
This large oil spill leaves it's permanent mark at the entrance.
Later that day five SUV’s arrived and decided to camp near us in the parking area. They fortunately did not drive their cars up on the rock entrance. But they did their own damage by driving their SUV’s all over the hill along the back of the parking area – an area where no other tire tracks existed before they got there – all so that they could set up a tarp connected to 3 of their cars. One driver took his SUV straight to the top of the small hill driving over lots of vegetation, just to unload his tent and supplies, then drove right back down.
In the desert plants and vegetation can take years to recover from human damage. Items such as toilet paper and wrappers do not break down and decompose like they might in wetter environments. Trash left in the desert will be there for a long, long time.
The only way these pieces of metal and plastic will disappear for good is if someone removes them...
...Marci and I did just that.
While the issues discussed here seem small – a wrapper here, some tissue there – with more people visiting these areas the trash and damage will add up fast if no one does anything about it.
We all need to do our own part to keep the areas we visit clean and trampled-on as little as possible. It is very simple and easy to do, and all it involves is a little common sense and a quick look around before you leave.
Refrain from making your own roads and trails while driving and consider where you park. Be aware of what you are stepping on – sandstone and vegetation can be equally fragile. Pick up your own trash and even trash you find that is not your own.
Everyone needs to do their part to protect these delicate environments so that others can enjoy these wonders and landscapes in their natural form – free from human contamination.
"Land Before Time" triptych. Click on photo for larger view.