I live surrounded by secrets. Secret spots. Secret trails. Secret views. Secret rock art panels. Secret canyons. These are places known to some who cherish them with a fierce devotion and a protectiveness that borders on obsessive. Southern Utah adventurers tend to feel that way, since so many destinations here that once used to be little-known and even less-visited have been exposed to the world at large, often to their detriment in terms of overall impact and eventual management. The Internet is a wonderful thing. It’s also the biggest gossip in the world, complete with GPS coordinates and photos that extol the local virtues that lure more people to rush to it.
Hey, I’m no exception. I’ve found many favorite areas that way myself. Yet I try not to expose them overly much. Is that selfish? Maybe. Yet I also look at it as doing a service not necessarily to people in general, but to the land itself. To the wild inhabitants of the land. And to those few people who will traverse the countryside to these spots in small, spare groups, taking care to tread lightly and leave as little trace of themselves as possible. Those who will not erect neon signs declaring in bold, brassy letters, THIS WAY LIES BEAUTY. COME VIEW IT, ALL OF YOU. Those who instead will ramble along the pathways, the unmarked routes, the off-trail directions, to find these spots and marvel at them quietly with without fanfare, except perhaps in their own wildly rejoicing soul.
But, you say, you wrote a hiking book, Julie. You gave very detailed directions to trails in Utah. Yes, I did. And I did highlight some lesser-known trails, as directed by the editors of the truly lovely publishers. I also said that to really know wild land is to love it, and to thus further protect it. That is something I also believe in.
So how to reconcile the two?
It’s a balancing act. The more people who discover these landscapes for themselves and truly appreciate them for their inherent beauty as well as the fact that they are home to wild creatures, not just places only marked for human use, the more people will work hard and use their voices to help protect those places against the careless greed of the few who seek only temporary profit as the expense of a permanent devastation. (Extractive and grazing industries, I’m looking at you.)
Yet the more people who know and want to visit these places, the more possibility for dramatic impact upon what are sensitive, fragile lands in this canyon country I and many others love. Not quite as bad as what heedless fracking or thoughtless rampant grazing does, but still potentially devastating in some ways.
I’ll also be honest and say that I am quite spoiled from having lived in a remote, less-visited place for so many years now. When I head to one of my favorite local trailheads, if I see another car parked there, I tend to get annoyed and go to another one instead. Silly? Probably. Yet I enjoy my solitude and serenity when I hike.
This post holds no real solutions to the conundrum. The more people use technology and social media, the more those almost indescribably beautiful places will be exposed to the world at large. It’s human nature to cry out about the wondrous things we experience and see, to want to share with others where we have been when it is stunning in its natural glory. And it is almost certain that sort of adulation will help protect at least some of those newly “discovered” places, as other, equally conservation-minded people will also venture to them, know them, and be moved to protective action if and when those spots are threatened. Yet then there also exists the danger of impact and perhaps eventual over-regulation by overly zealous governmental agencies. There also exists the possibility of either inadvertent or deliberate destruction by visitors. I don’t know what the hell the answer is. Maybe one day I’ll explore that more in a book.
Either way, I’ll just go see some of those more secret beauties myself as I, too, “discover” them, and share them without names, without directions, without exhortations for faceless others to visit as well. Keeping secrets is sometimes the best way to protect them, for whatever that means. For now, at least.