My sole piece of responsibility as a volunteer here at Canyonlands is a trail monitoring project which, despite having been assigned to countless volunteers and seasonals in the past, I quickly discovered didn’t actually exist. The idea that someone would slack on such a fun project honestly blew my mind, as I always saw it as the best excuse imaginable to spend less time in the visitor center and more on the trail. But really I should be thanking these lazy former co-workers of mine, because without their lack of enthusiasm I never would have ended up with the sweetest piece of freedom and creativity ever sitting in my lap. So after a week or so of writing proposals and SOPs, I got my ideas for a trail monitoring system approved and hit the ground running.
There are three main problems my trail monitoring project aims to fix: social trails (places where visitors have wandered off the official trail and others have then followed, destroying resources and essentially creating a trail to nowhere), cairn building/knocking down (trail markers often get knocked down, making paths unclear and encouraging more social trails. Visitors also often mistake cairns for cute but useless piles of rocks, build their own, which others then follow off course), and our biggest problem by far: graffiti.
Most of our graffiti falls into one of 3 categories. Category A – The stick figure. People seem so entranced by the rock art in the area, they decide to create their own stick-figure versions. Sometimes the drawings consist simply of a smiley face. Often the figures hold spears and chase stupid-looking sheep. Very commonly alien spaceships appear. I’d like to choc these drawings up to bored kids waiting for their parents on the trail, but logic and experience tell me grown-ups are just as likely to indulge in these stick-figure fantasies.
Category B – Idiot was here. What is it about we humans wanting to leave our names all over the place? I once happened upon a father who was encouraging his small child to carve her name in the rock, so that when she returned 10, 20, 50 years later, it would always be there waiting for her. I wanted to scream. Couldn’t this guy hear what he was saying. “It would always be there.” It would ALWAYS be there. So that every person who walks by that spot seeking solitude and wilderness and beauty, would be forced to see YOUR name carved in that rock. Forever reminding all who pass that there is no place sacred on this earth, no spot that hasn’t been ‘claimed’ by another, not even in their own national park. How, I asked the man, does carving anything into a rock foster our mission to protect and preserve?
The most common manifestation of this idea is the ever-creative set of initials in a heart. The cynic in me always curses that the scar of that stupid heart will probably exist much longer than the couple who put it there.
Category C – The ambiguous word. These one-word messages are sometimes fairly straight-forward (a common favorite is for foreigners to write the name of their country in capital letters for all to see). More often than not they take the form of one of those stupid tattoos girls get on their 18th birthday: ‘live, laugh, love’ is a popular one, ‘beauty’ is also a favorite. But the most common word by far that I find scrawled across the rocks always surprises me: ‘peace.’ I always wonder just what that writer was thinking when he wrote that word. Did he want to get some greater message across to fellow hikers? Or did he feel so truly peaceful at that spot, that rather than write in a journal or simply enjoy the thought to himself, he felt inspired enough to share it with the world! Either way this particular scrawl has annoyed me most. Not just because of its frequency, but because the irony of it kills me. What these people, most likely well-meaning, don’t realize – and what I find so obvious – is that they are finding and preaching their peace in an act of destruction.
And that, I fear, is where this world may be going to.