Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 29, 2016

Secret fear from a rainy tent

Filed under: protecting wilderness — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:41 am
Tags: , , , ,


Not cougar, not rattlesnake, not venomous spider. Nothing physical.

In this social-media-saturated age, the fear that keeps me awake at night is that we have lost the ability to protect fragile places.

I have seen the carnage that comes from over-sharing. I have seen places of beauty advertised so heavily that they are loved to death, exceeding their carrying capacity and creating problems that have no answer.

And in this blog I face a similar dilemma. I go to stunning places and want to share them with you, but… I have seen irresponsible people posting GPS coordinates of classified locations [i.e., too fragile for public visitation; in need of highest protection] such as pristine archaeological sites. To what end, I don’t know. “I went here, and you can, too” may be their Facebook legacy.

I recently hiked to a remote Class 3 (i.e., classified) pictograph panel that was painted several thousand years ago. For 99.996% of its existence, only a small group of people knew its location, and those who did respected and revered it. Then someone posted directions and waypoints on a website, and in short order this formerly-perfect Barrier Canyon Style panel received its first graffiti. This is heartbreaking. It isn’t possible to reverse the impacts of human visitation.  You can’t put the genie back in the lamp.

I love the Maze. I can’t get enough of its beauty/ruggedness/wildness/un-impactedness. But if I write about secrets of this place, or wax eloquent about its magic, or even simply post lovely photos that light a spark… I fear that I am contributing to the problems that are inevitable in our over-crowded, harried, adventure-seeking, post-it-on-the-interwebs-or-it-didn’t-happen society.

I can’t think of a solution. What are we to do??? The Comments section below awaits your input.



  1. Human beings, despite the freedoms granted by their spectacularly unique gifts, remain spectacularly ignorant of the responsibilities inherent in those freedoms.
    That won’t change anytime soon.
    Take appropriate precautions.

    Comment by leroque — May 29, 2016 @ 7:02 am | Reply

    • We were recently taken to a ‘secret’ location by friends who made us swear never NEVER to take anyone else there. We gladly and sincerely promised, in order to go to this place. Is that an ‘appropriate precaution’? Will it work in the long run? Is it sustainable? Probably not; it takes only one “revealer” to ruin a place.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — May 29, 2016 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  2. It’s a hard question. I cringe when I see magazine article titles of the “25 Unknown Places to See Before You Die” kind. I think there is a lot of value in keeping the locations of some amazing things secret, though I think sharing pretty photos and travel stories that purposely lack location information is fine and even valuable (it opens up a discussion like this!). The amount of obfuscation necessary to protect an individual site will vary. Sometimes maybe it is best to not share, and to just know that anybody who does see what you have seen will have had to go through a lot of preparation and effort to get so far out into the back country that they will *hopefully* have a similar wilderness ethic and will respect the location. Sharing is so tempting, though, and more so with today’s technology. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect people to keep secrets these days.

    Comment by pikaperdu — May 29, 2016 @ 8:48 am | Reply

    • Your last line sums it all up, I think. It saddens me, but it is probably the truth. Thanks for sharing.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — May 29, 2016 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  3. Secrets are a necessity evil when the risk out-weighs the benefits. As much as I enjoy hearing/seeing your exploits if it contributes to the demise of what we love so much, I can live without the blog posts.

    Comment by Clint Fairow — May 29, 2016 @ 12:52 pm | Reply

    • I’m very careful not to divulge too much. There is beauty every direction I look, and most of it is safe to reveal — as in, not a fragile location that would get ruined by increased visitation. Ah, but there’s the rub: EVERY place can get ruined by increased visitation. Wilderness will only become harder and harder to come by. Thanks for your input!

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — May 29, 2016 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  4. When my children were young, I took them on hikes to share with them my passion for the wild places of the earth. At first the lessons were ignored and even scoffed at by my boys; they just wanted to play video games. But, a spark was lit and now all three of them love and revere these places with passion and reverence. I think all we can do is to teach and educate those within our spree of influence to respect, love and protect our wilderness and hope that, like ripples in a pond, they spread their passion outwards. Hiding these places for a select few on “the list” will unfortunately only work for a short time and is not a sustainable option. We teach our children who, in turn, teach theirs and pray they grow to become good stewards of the earth.

    Comment by Chuck Furtner — May 29, 2016 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

  5. I think… Take pictures and share them with people you trust…
    Glad you are loving your life

    Comment by Kathy — May 29, 2016 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  6. I am reminded of the “scoutmasters” in some Utah location who deemed some balanced rocks a few years were “unsafe” so took it upon themselves to topple them. They even videotaped their vandalism and were caught, but as I recall only got a slap on the wrist. And today’s Sunday Morning broadcast showed Zion National Park attendance has grown so much the last few years that there is gridlock at the entrance. While I love our parks, unfortunately, I’m unable to hike back country trails to see some of these secret locations, but I’m happy knowing they are there, and encourage images/documentation, but NOT the location. I’m happy seeing an image, but don’t have the need to visit it myself… Thanks for your caring… -Dean

    Comment by Dean Ketelsen — May 29, 2016 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

    • There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t fret about these issues, Dean. Maybe that’s part of “being too passionate.” But I try to sleep at night, knowing that others are paid to find un-findable solutions.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 1, 2016 @ 6:26 am | Reply

  7. As Dean suggests, it’s not just the “secret” places that are at risk. The widely reported vandalism at Goblin Valley SP in Utah is not the only example. Within the last couple of weeks there were 2 unfortunate events in Yellowstone: the “kidnapping” and eventual death of a juvenile bison (the people thought it might get too cold) and the 2 tourists who decided to leave the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic Spring and walk out onto fragile and dangerous areas. Dumb.

    It’s sad when people fail to think. I’ve seen people merrily chasing moose in Rocky Mountain NP, trying to get a “good” picture. And the same types chasing deer into a parking area at Capitol Reef. It was like a mini-stampede. Not to mention seeing people chasing Big Horn sheep – with juveniles – at Zion this past spring. Fortunately, the two-legged humans were no match for the big horns. Still, it puts the sheep at risk. National parks are not petting zoos.

    This year is, of course, an anniversary year for the NPS. There’s a lot of advertising going on. Visitation to the parks will continue to increase. I understand this. The parks belong to everyone. But it’s a double edged sword. More people means more vandalism, more trampling, more chasing, and more people doing thoughtless and dumb things. Like everyone else, I have no answer. How do you force people to respect the wild places that still exist? How do you make them see that once destroyed, wilderness is nearly impossible to replace? Should the laws governing these areas be tougher? Should we put people in jail for harassing wildlife? Should we build more fences?

    I don’t know. But it’s a serious, serious issue. I have tremendous respect (and sympathy) for the rangers who daily do their best to preserve and protect these places. But there aren’t enough of you. And there’s too many of us……….

    Comment by Paul Maxim — May 30, 2016 @ 6:37 am | Reply

    • Thank you for saying what I couldn’t or didn’t. Your summation speaks powerfully for itself. This particular topic touches a chord in those of us who care passionately for wild places; there has to be some combination of education and deterrence that will assist those who don’t care, or haven’t learned to care. Put violators on a trail-building crew for a couple of weeks… perhaps the wilderness would work its way into their soul.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 1, 2016 @ 6:04 am | Reply

      • That’s a really good idea (putting “offenders” on a trail-building crew). The logistics could be difficult, but it would certainly address the idea of education and deterrence.

        A day or two after posting my comment here I noticed that “USA Today” had a big article on the increasing visitation to national parks, and that some parks were trying to control the number of people in the park during peak periods (with higher entrance fees, for example). I’ve often wondered if the NPS should treat high volume parks in the same way that The Wave in Arizona is handled. Maybe we should have to get permits or reservations to go to places like Zion or Arches or Yellowstone. Once a certain quota is reached for a given day, that would be it. Nobody else would be allowed in. It may be arbitrary and unfair, but it might also give you guys a little breathing room.

        Comment by Paul Maxim — June 3, 2016 @ 6:10 am

      • Arches NP is the first park needing to implement “timed entry.” It’s not just on the drawing board; it’s going to happen. There is no other solution to entrance lines backed up two miles, creating traffic hazards and angering people. We’re a society accustomed to making reservations for dinner, for a show, for Disneyland, etc.; this is the next step. Reservations to go into beautiful places that are too congested. I never thought I’d see the day.

        Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 3, 2016 @ 6:58 am

  8. There will always be those that throw their trash on the ground and those that angrily pick it up. Hopefully the great majority who treasure the wild places are the ones who pick up the trash. But, the others will show up too. That won’t change and I guess and we have to sadly just deal with it.

    There was a ‘secret’ place in Canyonlands not listed in park material but I knew about from a travel/photography book. What a treat it was to hike there all by ourselves and experience it. It was the highlight of our trip. I would hate for places like that to be completely hidden/off limits for fear of vandalism.

    I also saw the Sunday morning show on the explosion of park attendance the past 5 years. There are wild places everywhere….some right in our own backyards well worth exploring too. We have enjoyed taking mini trips every year in our area (Wisconsin) and have had great times hiking and exploring.

    Comment by Norm — May 30, 2016 @ 8:49 am | Reply

    • The management dilemma created by those who desecrate revered places is a tough one. In order to protect them better, you need more rangers, which means you need more money, which means you need more taxes or higher entrance fees. But it goes beyond this; the over-crowding problem is a result of too many folks visiting the parks. For that, there is NO answer. They address this in Tanzania (safari parks) by charging non-residents of TZ many many times what a national would pay. They are addressing it in Arches NP by planning for a “timed entry” system. I shudder to think what our parks will look like in another one or two generations. Visitation statistics are terrifying to look at, for me.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 1, 2016 @ 6:12 am | Reply

  9. Thought-provoking post. My response is don’t divulge too much information. Share your delight, your photographs…and not much else. As you, and others, noted above, it only takes one selfish and thoughtless individual to spoil these treasures. A sad thought, but probably true. Not worth the risk.

    Comment by plaidcamper — May 30, 2016 @ 9:05 pm | Reply

    • That’s what I’m trying to do with my blog; be responsible, but not over-share. The burden is great, however, as I see places being overtaken by would-be explorers who lack a wilderness ethic. All we can do is try to teach… and hope parents are imparting their wisdom.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 1, 2016 @ 6:19 am | Reply

  10. Regarding the issue of whether to divulge the location of remote beautiful places and sites, I am not sure and think you just have to use your good judgment. And everyone reading this would absolutely agree you have good judgment on those sorts of things. On the issue of vandals, well, there will always be some out there. It’s easy for all of us to condemn those actions–no controversy there at all. But your post brings up the real problem facing us: There are too many people in the United States (not to mention the world but that’s a whole other matter too long to get into). The issue is not pleasant to think about, but it is very real. Our country has been a wonderful place to be because of wilderness. Humans need wild places. They need a sense that there is the possibility of escape. When our remote wild areas are overrun with so many people we lose the peaceful solace we went there to find. 320 million people in our country is too many. I recently read an article that said if someone considers themselves a true environmentalist then he or she must oppose population growth of all sorts– including growth through immigration. Again, not a pleasant subject to think about, but one we ought not to avoid. Your posts celebrate the beautiful wildness of the U.S., I hope our country’s leaders will understand that too many people will destroy the beauty you so elegantly write about.

    Comment by Davis Middlemas — September 11, 2016 @ 11:22 am | Reply

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