For years I’ve always gone by the motto, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” And while visiting White Sands National Monument, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Taking images of an amazing location, and leaving only my tracks as evidence of my visit.
This visit to White Sands has been fantastic. Learning more about the area, documenting locations for RV’ers to stay, and getting into the dunes wandering for hours on end. And yes, taking only pictures.
I’m sorry to say, some other visitors have less respect for such awesome places. Finding an Aquafina bottle shoved into a sand dune near a parking area was the first surprise. Then several more bottles near the tracks of someone sledding down a dune (you can get dune sleds at the visitor’s center). Overall, many plastic bottles were seen in the dunes today.
They left more than footprints.
Fortunately, White Sands National Monument isn’t overrun with visitors. Today while we saw a few cars here and there, we were not dealing with mobs of people trying to get ahead of you in line. Like many National Monuments, White Sands leaves a lot open to your own exploration. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to explore on my own is a major part of my time in the outdoors. Guided tours would do very little to enhance my own experience.
With that said, when I see the bottles buried in the dunes I have to ask myself, “Should park services be watching us closer?” For me, I would prefer not. But given how many people set out into our nation’s parks and dump their garbage all over the place, I do wonder.
In 2001, my first week on the Appalachian Trail was spent following a hiker who started a few days ahead of us. His name was Jason Berry. I know that because he left his trash behind in shelters every day, “offering it” to other hikers. And the tuna cans and other junk he left behind had his name on it. So, I took a photo of one of his tuna cans a few days into our hike and made sure it got on my trail journal. I think there’s a lot to be said for public shaming. Well, that is if people still feel shame.
Take only pictures folks, leave only footprints. And if you have a few minutes, clean up after the thoughtless around us!