An article on Petapixel recently brought to my attention the fact that due to recent invasions by huge numbers of tourists at an easy-to-access but previously only sparsely visited location, Horseshoe Bend, which I have visited twice, now has a new $750,000 steel railing at the overlook.
I’ve been aware for some time that crowds are discovering and choking places that were once only inhabited by a few dedicated naturalists or photographers.
The worst of these, in my opinion, has to be Antelope Canyon, which I saw in 2012, and to which I have no intention of returning. It has been taken over by geotaggers and their phones, and because it is so popular, holds little appeal to me. On that visit, a women in our tour group put away her camera halfway through the tour. When I asked her why, she said, “This isn’t relaxing.”
Geotagging is using the GPS coordinates to mark the location associated with your photos, allowing others to easily find it and visit it.
It is also significant that locations swarming with visitors dilute the value of photos you might make there: sure, you have a nice image, but so do all the hundreds or thousands of people huddled around you. Instead of creating a unique image, you are part of a group of stenographers.
Even our beloved Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, which I have had the privilege of visiting nine times, including when Abby and I got married there in 2004, may soon have restricted visitation or even require a permit.
There is a little bit of good news, though: if it takes a fair amount of physical effort, like hiking 10 miles for example, most of the population are too lazy and out of shape to do it.
So what is the essential cause of this issue, why does it matter, and what can we do? Is this just a symptom of an Earth with 7.7 billion people on it? Do we have the internet to blame? Social trends? The selfish selfie scene?
By their very nature, people are destructive to many of the natural phenomena we hold in high regard, not just by their appearance, but also by their consumption and erosion of natural features. Their footfalls and Twinkie wrappers are far more damaging than their appearance in our images.
A truth to remember, though, is that we all want to create beautiful photographs, we all want to record and preserve our memories, and we all want to show off our experiences. It’s hard to be too critical of tourists and photographers while being one of them.
What can we do to both protect and experience these beautiful places?
- Visit during off-peak seasons
- Visit when the weather discourages visitors, like when it’s super-cold
- Get to the trail head before the sun comes up, and get off the trail before the crowds start to thicken
- Obey and defend the Leave No Trace paradigm
Despite some locations being “discovered,” there are still wild, unspoiled spots in the world, worthy of our exploration and our respect.