An article on Petapixel.com recently brought to my attention that, due to recent invasions by huge numbers of tourists, an easy-to-access but previously only sparsely visited location — Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River, near Page, Arizona — now has a new $750,000 steel railing at the overlook.
I’ve visited Horseshoe Bend twice, and 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 I have no intention of returning. It has been overtaken by geotaggers and their phones, and because it is so popular, it holds little appeal to me. On that visit, a woman in our tour group put away her camera halfway through the tour. When I asked her why, she said, “This isn’t relaxing.”
Geotagging — using GPS coordinates to mark the location associated with a photo — allows others to easily find and visit spots where you take photos.
It is also significant that locations swarming with visitors dilute the value of the 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 become 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 and where Abby and I got married in 2004, may soon have restricted visitation or even require a permit.
So what is the essential 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? Is 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 trailhead 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.