Before I get into this discussion I just want to say that I don’t think that any of the people who lost their lives at Yosemite National Park in the past month were doing anything wrong. But their unfortunate deaths conjure up images in my mind of some of the bad behavior I’ve seen in our National Parks. Yosemite is a good target for stupidity. High elevations, colossal waterfalls, dangerous animals. Remember the tourists that got a little too close to Vernal Falls by jumping a barricade to get a good picture? I’ve hiked the Mist Trail and can attest to the fact that you don’t have to jump barriers to get a great shot. I can also attest to the fact that there are many people on hiking trails not only in Yosemite but in all parks that have no business being there. Just a reminder, folks: flip-flops are not hiking shoes. And running around screaming and chasing one another on slippery rocks is not proper trail etiquette, or any kind of trail etiquette.
Climbing El Capitan isn’t one of my goals in life. Neither is jumping off of it with a chute on my back. I’m fine with looking at it from below, watching someone else do it, or maybe taking a hike to get a better view. I completely admire the men and women that do these kinds of things, but I also believe that they have to go into such a transaction knowing they may not come out alive. Half Dome isn’t on my to-do list, either. 300 permits per day are issued, and the way I figure it, with that many people on a giant rock the odds are pretty good that at least a few of them are going to be unprepared and inexperienced. There is nothing inside of me that wants to lose my life because of someone else that is just out to get their kicks. Even the best prepared hiker or climber can run into trouble at anytime, and freak accidents happen, but a lot of these problems can be sidestepped by using simple common sense. If you’re going to partake in these potentially dangerous activities, please know your limits, and don’t exceed them. Too many people falling to their deaths in any park is going to keep people away.
Wild animals pose another concern. My cousin’s son has a degree in “wildlife management,” or “animal control,” or something of the sort, and hopes to someday work in a National Park. This is what I told him: “Rangers protect animals from people more than they protect people from animals.” Anyone who has been bottle necked in Yellowstone because of a grizzly sighting knows this to be true. For heaven’s sake, my friends, don’t chase a grizzly bear. Just ask the dude in Denali who, like those smart folks jumping the Vernal Falls barrier, knows what it’s like to die for a memorable photo. Oh wait, scratch that. The bear ate his head. The poor guy can’t answer. Anyway, don’t ask your wife to stand five feet in front of the newborn buffalo calf while Mama stomps the ground and prepares to mow down anyone in her path. And don’t expect any furry thing to hang around and pose for your picture if you and your kids are howling. I’ve taken many beautiful pictures at safe distances that benefit both people and animals.
Here’s a few more things to think about:
Get out of the car! If you really want to brag to your friends about how you visited the Grand Canyon, roll up the window, get out of the vehicle, and stop taking those photos-on-the-fly from your air conditioned SUV. All parks have short trails with no elevation gain that offer a chance to see better views, or flora, or fauna, or a combination of the three, for just about anyone. Some are even wheelchair accessible. Get some of those 10,000 daily steps!
PLEASE don’t deface rocks, trees, or other natural features. No, I don’t want to see your footprint in the Grand Prismatic Spring, and considering you’re looking at a first degree burn and a steep fine, neither do you.
Slow down. National Parks have posted speed limits, and rangers can and will stop you and give you a ticket. Besides, pictures come out really blurry at fifty miles an hour. You aren’t really seeing anything when the pedal is on the metal. And people are everywhere. Ease up! The life you’re saving could be mine. (James Dean once said that in a public service announcement. How ironic is that?)
Be quiet and courteous, and teach your children the same. Understand that a lot of people visit National Parks to get away from noise and the stresses of everyday life. There’s nothing worse than being on an awe-inspiring trail and hearing someone shouting. Again, terrible etiquette. Stay home and drink beer if you need to act like that.
In short, National Parks are treasures. The land was set aside for a reason, and a large part of that reason was so that we and our children can enjoy them for years to come. Let’s make good on that.
Hope to see you on the trails of the parks, and the trails of life!