I'm pissed. Over the past couple of years, I've read news story after news story about dumbasses doing stupid shit in our national parks and other wilderness areas, and I've just sort of stewed over it. There was the Boy Scout leader who knocked over a hoodoo in Goblin Valley State Park, a drone pilot who flew his quadcopter into Grand Prismatic Spring, the "artist" who left her "art" painted all over rocks in national parks throughout the West, souvenir hunters stealing the mysterious moving rocks at the Racetrack in Death Valley, the total dope who got out of his car to harass a bison in Yellowstone (and somehow escaped being gored) and a real genius who thought it would be cute to wade into Brooks Falls for a selfie with feeding grizzly bears. On a recent trip to Glacier NP we witnessed a small group of foreigners attempting to feed rocks to mountain goats. Then, today, I hear that the National Park Service has issued a closure at False Kiva in Canyonlands because some jackass felt the need to light a fire in the middle of this ancient structure, and then use the ashes to leave handprints all over the cave walls.
Maybe it's because Moab is my home and Canyonlands is my backyard, or maybe I've just reached my limit of jackassery, but I can no longer remain silent. I fully realize that venting here on my blog will have precisely zero impact on the reduction of this ridiculousness, but perhaps sharing my thoughts will provide me with some sense of relief. You know, like a blowoff valve. So, here goes.
When we moved to Moab in 2006, Arches National Park averaged about 600,000 visitors each year. This year, the park is on track to see 1.8 million visitors. Park administrators are struggling with how to manage the massive influx of people. Various ideas have been discussed, including a shuttle system and mandatory reservations during peak season. That's right. Reservations. Not that the shuttle would work any better, as we discovered on our recent trip to Glacier, where we spent a total of six hours either waiting for or riding shuttles to do a 4 hour hike with hundreds of other sheep, er...visitors. But, I digress. The reservation system is not a popular idea and has received significant pushback but all indications are that it will proceed in 2019. Fine, maybe with fewer people in the park it'll restore a tiny little bit of the peace that was once so common amongst the majestic towers and arches, and maybe it'll keep KW from proclaiming his undying love for JA with a carved inscription in the soft red sandstone, but probably not.
Where did we go wrong? When did people suddenly become so disrespectful toward Mother Nature and one another that "take only photographs, leave only footprints" is nothing more than meaningless words on a trailhead sign? Why are so damn many people doing so many straight up moronic, selfish, thoughtless, stupid things in the wilderness? I don't have the answer. I don't know that anyone does. Could it be that answering this question may help to guide us toward some sort of resolution, or are we past the point of no return? Will there always be tourons (tourist-morons) who try to ride bison in Yellowstone and carve their stupid initials into aspen trees?
Two decades ago, I was living in Phoenix and spent countless weekends hiking and backpacking throughout the Grand Canyon. It was common to find tourists wearing slacks and penny loafers, or skirts and platform shoes, at Indian Gardens, 4 1/2 miles below the South Rim, in temperatures approaching or over 100 degrees and carrying only a small bottle of water. I always carried extra water and food and frequently handed it out to these ill-prepared folks. I also always carried a garbage bag that I filled with trash I found along the trail as I hiked out of the canyon. I'd see people feeding potato chips to the squirrels, or sometimes deer, and I'd shrug it off. Occasionally, I'd interject and remind them that the animals are wild and shouldn't be fed human food. But it didn't animate me like the antics we're seeing today. I almost wish we could go back to those times, when a tourist being bitten by a rabid squirrel was kind of the big news when it came to national park tomfoolery.
Coming back to False Kiva, my wife and I were planning to visit it this fall with our son. We've been a few times but this would have been his first. If nothing else, maybe this should serve as a reminder that one should never put off visiting a specific location, because it's entirely possible that if you wait too long, you might not get the chance.
I don't really know where I'm going with this or why. I guess I truly am just venting, which isn't going to re-open False Kiva or solve any of the other myriad issues I've mentioned, but I think I do feel a little bit better, so I've got that going for me...which is nice. Perhaps if you've made it this far, you too are feeling some small sense of relief, or maybe you're more pissed off now than you were when you started reading this post. Who knows, but if you've got any thoughts to share, I'd love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment. Who knows, maybe we, as individuals, can do something to turn this train around, and it could start with one simple idea.