Don’t bust the crust! This is a favorite saying of desert enthusiasts to try to keep hikers on trail. In a healthy desert there is a crust of cryptobiotic soil that covers the ground and it is extremely fragile. Step off the path and you crush this delicate and incredibly important part of the unique desert habitat. Regardless of numerous signs and pictures explaining why you should stay on trail in the desert, footprints litter the sand anyway. So this brings us to todays topic… other people.
After working for a conservation corps and living outside for five months Kyle and I feel like we are pretty good environmental stewards. We follow posted rules, practice leave no trace ethics and pack out everything we pack in. But as our awareness of and sensitivity towards how our small actions impact the environment increases our bemusement, sometimes turning to outrage, at the actions of other people has grown.
For example, we are bemused by sunsetters. Sunsetters is a term Kyle coined when we were in Bryce Canyon a few years ago. We had gone on the longest hike in the park (some eight miles) and as we neared the rim on our way back we found crowds of people packing a popular outlook. This sparked the need for a term to describe these people… people who will often just drive up to an outlook, occasionally actually exit their car and stand outside for a while, take a picture, and then keep going. Now of course I realize that for some people this is the extent of their physical ability, so in that case I say have at it! But while we were in Canyonlands just a few days ago we watched a younger man pull up to an outlook, stop his car, stick his camera out the sunroof, take a picture without even looking at the view and then drive off… Sunsetters, those that only come out for the most perfect sunset, the best view, the ideal overlooks, and once the sun has gone down they and their cameras are gone.
Another thing that irks us but doesn’t send us into full blown fury is when other people build unnecessary cairns along a trail. For those of you that don’t know, cairns are carefully constructed rock piles that are sometimes used to mark trails. However, not all trails use cairns, they might use painted blazes on trees, signs, or the trail might be so well defined that no marking is necessary. In these cases, when cairns are built by hikers on a trail that doesn’t need them, they are actually considered bad leave no trace ethics. The idea with leave no trace is that every hiker should get to enjoy nature while feeling like there haven’t been a ton of other people enjoying it previously. Obviously this isn’t completely pristine, there is the trail you are hiking on, and the markers you are following, but other than these you should see no sign of humans, making you feel more remote, isolated, a true wilderness experience. That is why, if Kyle and I come across someone who has been building cairns on trails that don’t need them, we knock them right over. It has become almost a vendetta with us, and we knock down cairns with joy, yelling “Hayduke lives!” (a character from the Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey) as a tribute to Hayduke’s curmudgeonly ways. So if you can imagine, when we were in Arches we stopped to walk around Balanced Rock, a popular feature with a paved trail, when we discovered a unnecessary cairn builder at work. She was a young Australian girl, judging by her accent and her dad’s frequent use of the word mate, and no doubt, having seen a cairn someone else built, she was building a veritable city of cairns as she went down the trail. Kyle and I came upon her and, exchanging glances, skulked behind a rock for a while, waiting for her to make her way down trail and around a bend. Once she was around the corner we attacked, demolishing all the cairns she had just built. We dawdled down the trail, waiting for her to get out of eyeshot so we could knock over every single one of her cairns, high-fiving and shouting Haydukes name the whole way! We aren’t sure what Karma will do to us for that one…
But while building cairns is far from malicious and we understand that people do it due to a lack of education about the nuances of LNT there are some actions that other people do that make us red in the face. Most of these involve blatant rule breaking and ignoring of posted signs and warnings. For example, when we got to hanging lake in Colorado and discovered a beautiful fragile lake with rare flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world, we also discovered a hoard of idiots climbing out onto a log that had fallen into the lake to take pictures in different yoga poses. The signs we were reading about the lake clearly state that people should not swim in, touch, or in any way come in contact with the lake because oils from human skin can be detrimental to the environment within. As we were rounding the lake to check out the waterfall two guys with a flask of whiskey approached us. “You guys should totally go out on that log, I totally got that older woman over there to do it! Look, she’s doing it, you should totally go out there!” We both kind of laughed and brushed them off and as we passed the log, saw a sign clearly stating, DO NOT CLIMB ON LOG. So why do people feel the urge to break rules? I don’t give a rat’s ass if they get wet, but falling in means damaging a delicate and rare habitat. We left hanging lake grumbling about hoodlums and hooligans.
Other people who make me want to crack my knuckles is people who feed animals. It is posted EVERYWHERE in Canyonlands and in any National Park or Forest not to feed the wildlife. So you can imagine my outrage when Kyle and I watched a woman lure a raven to her car with peanuts and my delight when the raven flapped up to the side mirror and, I crossed my fingers, went to peck the woman’s eyes out. She screamed and rolled up the window as fast as she could.
And lastly, one of the few times I have actually yelled at another person. Kyle and I were hiking out of the Grand Canyon after a long day of work with ACE and when we crested the rim we came upon a young boy, standing right in front of his apparently moronic parents, throwing rocks off the rim of the canyon. It is extremely dangerous to lob rocks over the edge, because even a small one, gaining speed as it fell, could kill someone hiking below. There are signs everywhere asking people to not throw rocks and seeing that the parents couldn’t read Kyle and I charged over, bellowing at the child, not the least bit ashamed that his parents were right there.
Kyle and I have had to deal with other people on this road trip, the places we have been visiting are popular spots! But we have had some blessed moments, like on our last night in Canyonlands we were the only people camped in our entire campground. Our tent was so well hidden in our campsite that the Park service thought the campground was empty and accidentally locked us out of the campground. Once we got in we had the rare experience of being completely alone in Canyonlands. For moments like that I will continue to put up with other people.