I will never understand the mentality of those who cause damage and trash our beautiful open spaces. I have words I would use here, but they would not be pleasant or clean.
This damage was recently placed front, center, and in my face while on a trip to Death Valley National Park in October 2020. Driving south from Furnace Creek, Susan and I found our way to Badwater Basin to see the salt flats and impressive structures created. What greeted us was tire tracks created by one or more off-road vehicles.
Signs found on all the roads, and as you enter the park, stating that driving off the park roads is prohibited. It is as plain as the nose on your face. You can’t miss it. This (these) idiot(s) did. With no guard rails, it is easy to drive over the berm. A few minutes of fun for one cause damage that lasts ten or more years to the salt structures and mudflats!
You are in a National Park! Respect should be the first rule of behavior. But maybe that is asking too much of these morons. Perhaps they have none and are so self-absorbed they could give a shit about anyone or anything. Again, it is incomprehensible that someone would not think and stop before they do this sort of thing. Or, as other writers have said, maybe it’s this Instagram thing. Posting is Paramount, and getting attention is all that matters. Who knows which is the case here (I suspect it is both).
I have seen folks online post that this is just dry dead dirt, so what’s the harm? The first harm is highly visual. These areas, parks, monuments, and wilderness areas, are meant to be preserved for posterity and all of us to enjoy the unspoiled land. Second, many sites have delicate ecosystems that are not easily seen by the average “Joe.” Much of the desert and badlands have a crust on them. They are full of micro-organisms that hold the crust together and help reduce erosion (I am sure there are many other things this life offers too). I was hiking in some badlands in New Mexico, and it had just rained overnight. The dirt came to life with colors as these organisms sucked up the moisture. We tried to walk where others had before and not damage this fantastic carpet of color.
It is not just in Death Valley at Badwater Basin, The Race Track, and Ibex Dunes, but everywhere we travel. Human trash, waste, tire tracks, and disrespect are everywhere. Damage to ancient petroglyphs and pictographs can never really be undone and repaired. Human waste, toilet paper, and even used diapers along hiking trails, over the edge near rivers and streams. A health issue for all who visit! A case in point is The Narrows in Zion National Park. There are so many people hiking it now. Some, if not many, need to pee or more during the journey. Few carry the required “poop box” to carry out their waste. The Virgin River gets tested for pollution and algae blooms. This year the signs warned folks to stay out of the water. But The Narrows was just as busy as always.
A few years ago, when I hiked The Narrows, I found out that we were wading in polluted water. A few days after returning home, my tripod began to smell. I had used it to shoot images while hiking there. That was the purpose of the hike. I had to disassemble my tripod down to the last piece and clean and sterilize it top to bottom. That was indeed some polluted water!
Getting back to Death Valley, the park asked for and was awarded a grant in 2020 by the State of California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division (OHMVR Division) for $498,000.00 to do restoration and set up things to block vehicles from entering these delicate areas.
A few get caught—the two Boy Scout leaders who toppled a hoodoo for one. But most are never found. The damage is done and irreparable in many cases. I have no solution except for education.
For my part, I will continue to photograph all the damage, garbage, and disrespect of our public lands as I can. I have started something called “The Trash Planet Project,” where I will create images that I hope will get folk’s attention and burn it enduringly into their minds. Whether they like, hate, or love the photos is irrelevant. People must remember, and maybe, it will stop them (or they will stop others) from the bad behavior and damage to this beautiful planet.