Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa Trampled!

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The photo above is from Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa and was posted on the Death Valley Facebook page. It’s a popular photo spot in Death Valley and thousands of photographers flock there each year to photograph the mysterious “Sailing Stones”. Well, a Facebook friend, Jeff Simmons, turned me on to this post the other day. I read it and immediately thought just about everyone else who commented on it must be a photographer. Why? Because they were totally slamming the people that walked on the playa.

But who’s really wrong here? The people who left the footprints, or the photographers who are slamming them? I know I’m probably being too kind here, and I could be totally wrong – but I don’t think the people walking on the playa actually meant to ruin photographs for years to come. They may not be the smartest people in the world, but the comments on the post throw around words like “awful”, “stupid”, “idiot”, “saddening” and even “desecration”. Desecration? Really? It’s mud for God’s sake! :) And before you read on and post a thought, remember this. The sailing stones aren’t part of a key ecological system that, if disrupted, will have ripples throughout the ecosystem of Death Valley. Even the very post on Death Valley’s Facebook page only cites that the prints “will ruin photos for years”. So my point in this discussion is not whether it’s okay to harm nature. It’s not. I don’t think anyone reading this thinks it is. But that’s not what this is about. This is about photographers getting ticked off at tourists for leaving footprints in a place where they like to take photos.

Here’s my thoughts. First, it probably wasn’t a photographer that did this to get a photo. Thousands of people visit this place. Also, when in national parks (and generally, out in nature), there’s a “leave no trace” motto and I’m TOTALLY in agreement. When I camp with my kids we follow this rule every time. However, to some one that doesn’t know that the Racetrack is a popular photography spot, walking on mud would be similar to some one walking over a sand dune, or walking on fresh snow. I don’t think most people think of footprints as violating the “leave no trace” motto. Again, I do not in any way support anyone hurting, vandalizing or ruining nature in any way. I just don’t think this is an example of it.

Anyway…So put yourself in the place of a tourist… in fact, I saw many international tourists when I was there. You’ve flown thousands of miles… you’ve driven 2 hours to get there. You pull up and it’s muddy. But you really want to see those rocks up close and check it out for yourself. You look on the ground and what do you see? Mud? It’s not a coral reef, where it’s pretty well known that the effects of a human touch can ruin hundreds of years of growth. It’s not a sacred ground or monument either. It’s mud. Oh, and you have no idea that this is a popular photography spot? Why? Because the other 99.9999999% of the world doesn’t know the places photographers like to go to. So what do you do? You walk out on it and check out the rocks. Sure, I know it looks like they trampled all over and it’s excessive. But the rocks are kinda cool, and I know I walked all around them when I was there, so my guess is that a tourist would do the same.

While we’re on the tourist topic, here’s another example that I encountered in Death Valley while visiting the sand dunes. Photographers of course, want the pristine photo of the dunes. But, everyone else, besides photographers (which make up the majority of people that visit them), like to venture out and walk to the top of the dunes to see the panoramic scene around them, and even have their photo taken. So are those people idiots? They just trampled the dunes so that any photographer that shows up after them has a photo with a bunch of footprints in it. I was lucky. I visited on a Wednesday when the foot traffic was less since it was mid-week. So I was able to get the pristine untouched dune photos. But I also went back on a weekend and the dunes were trampled to death. A group of people ventured out along the highest peaks of the highest dunes, and left footprints all the way behind them. Anyone that went out after them to take a photo was screwed. If the winds died down there for a while, who knows how long it would take for those footprints to go away. I consider the footprint in the mud to be a very similar situation. Sure it may take longer to go away, but to the photographer that only visited the dunes that weekend (and maybe can’t get back for several years), does it matter that the footprints would wash away in a few days or a few years? Regular people (non-photographers), walk around these places because they want to experience them. They have no idea, that they may be ruining a photograph for a photographer. They’re just as entitled to walk out on the dunes as I am right? They paid the entrance fee to the park just like I did and they’re not violating the park rules.

Look, I get it. It sucks as a photographer who went out there after this. Just like it would suck to be the photographer that went out the day after a large group walked on the sand dunes. But to say that the people who did it were idiots and desecrated the land I think is a bit dramatic. If you go to the National Park’s webpage today it shows the photo here, and mentions not to walk on the playa if it’s wet. But just out of curiosity I did a Web.Archive search and found a snapshot of the website in Dec. 2013 and it has no mention of it. So this is indeed something the park system hadn’t even warned people of on their own website before now.

At the end of the day, hopefully the photo posted on the website and their Facebook page raises awareness for the area. One of the principles of “Leave No Trace” includes being considerate of other visitors. I don’t think these people knowingly thought they were being inconsiderate. If you were to walk through a wet forest to a campground, most would never worry about leaving tracks in the mud behind them. But hopefully, this helps raise awareness that the playa is different, and affected more by foot traffic.

It’s the whole considerate thing that gets me, though. I’ve been to many places where angry photographers yell at tourists before they ever politely ask them to move, assuming the tourist is purposely trying to ruin their photo. It gives photographers a bad name everywhere when you do that. All of Death Valley, including the Racetrack, is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit. As a photographer it’s a wonderful place to photograph. As a tourist, there’s so many cool places to hike around and explore scenery that you’d never see anywhere else. But sometimes, being part of one of those groups means that you could grow to resent the other. So here’s to hoping that each group can figure out how to help the other, and everyone can enjoy all the beauty that Death Valley has to offer.

  • dave

    I understand your point of view. I partially agree. But as you said, it’s a 2 hr drive to check this place out, so chances are the tourist who came to visit saw a majestic photo in a tour book that was prestine and without footprints all around. Why not leave it the way you found it? Now, it does not look like the photo that they saw in their tour book. Just as frustrating as hiking out to one of the arches for a sunset shot, and having a bunch of tourist playing around underneath during the golden moments. Do they have the right to be there? Sure they do. But not once do they think about the 50 photographers over there shoulder waiting to take a pic of the arch sans people. This all leads to the bigger question…what is happening to “consideration of others”? I see it more and more each day…people just consumed by themselves and not even considering the people around them…what’s going on?

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Dave. I actually tend to agree. They probably did see a majestic photo of the Racetrack. Just like they’ve probably seen majestic photos of the dunes with no footprints. I guess what I’m proposing is that maybe they thought the same thing about walking on the Racetrack as they did the dunes. That it was just footprints that would be gone in hours/days. It’s the internet-angry-ness that gets me in this whole story. Always assuming the worst in people.
      As for the arches, I’ve been there. And I’ve seen first hand photographers yelling at people at Delicate arch before ever going up and politely asking them to move. If you’re a tourist at Delicate what do you do? From about 2 hours before sunset, if you show up there you’re in someone’s shot? How about a photographer going up to them and simply asking politely “Hey, would you mind that right at about 5 minutes before sunset, just moving out of the way so we can get the shot?”. And honestly, I’ve always wanted to tell the whiny photographer at Delicate to be quiet and just use the Clone Stamp tool ;-)
      Thanks!

      • dave

        What frustrated me about the Delicate Arch is not the tourist there, but it was there lack of disregard for anyone but themselves. Do they not see the 100 cameras and tripods pointed in their direction? Do they need to loiter around for 30 minutes at the base? Do they need to sit and ponder life directly underneath the arch as he sun goes down? It’s not that I assume the worst in people but do notice that people more and more don’t care about their neighbors…which is disheartening. I do however believe that the way to handle it is with kindness and politeness, the angry-factor factor gets you no where.

      • Me

        The “trick” to catching delicate arch is to hike out on the ridge on the opposite side of the bowl and get this shot. From that distance, it makes cloning out the people MUCH easier. lol.

        http://www.landshapephotography.com/img/s11/v37/p482161419-4.jpg

  • Janine Smith

    Thank you for this! I have been in so many situations where the photographers think their priorities are more important than everyone else. And I’m a photographer!

    You’re absolutely right that we should all respect each other. Sometimes a simple polite request “I’m taking a photo, could you walk over there ?” can not only get some cooperation, but start a conversation. With digital cameras we can share what we’re shooting. People might love to join in your project (or not, but at least they’ll understand what you’re doing).

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Well said Janine – I guess I’ve been to so many places where I’ve seen photographers be mean to people who simply just didn’t know. And like you said, I’m a photographer. I want the shot. But I’ve just seen so many yell and scream at a tourist first, before ever just politely asking.
      Will I see you in LA?

      • Janine Smith

        Hope to see you in LA, I have a conflict but am trying to reschedule. I never want to miss a Matt class!

      • Robert McDonagh

        I guess I have been lucky, the majority of people that I encounter move out of the way, or wait before walking in front as soon as they see that I am are trying to take a photo.

        • Mamerow

          With the advent of digital camera technology, everyone thinks himself a photographer, and so location, location, location becomes a very rare thing.

          People are idiots, plain and simple. And, don’t sugar coat the fact they are more concerned about anything else, except their instant gratification.

          The next time a digital photog gets in front of my view camera that took me 20 minutes to set up and compose, he will leave on a gurney, stuck in a sand dune.

      • Me

        The other side of this Matt, which is part and parcel to the “problem” is everyone going out trying to get (duplicate really) the same iconic shots. Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock at sunset, Mesa Arch at sunrise, Monument Valley from the overlook, Horsetail firefall Tunnel View at Yosomite, Haystack Rock in Oregon, Molton Barn at Grand Teton, etc, etc, etc, etc. We all know the iconic locations. Now on one hand these classic shots are classic for a reason, but on the other hand, simply duplicating an image that’s been made time and time again, does NOTHING to advance the craft of photography.

        I am constantly “preaching” to folks, if you want “solitude” in your photos, what we really should be doing is searching out the new classics. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to Arches or Canyonlands (fortunately I only live about 3.5 hours from there) and when I arrive at the site it’s a total junk show. I also cannot tell you the number of times when that happens where my camera ends up pointing in the opposite direction as everyone else’s. One of my favorite shots is a 10 stop of Turret Arch taken at sunset on the night of the full moon. EVERYONE else at that location was shooting the moon rising over the la Sal’s thru the arch. Cool concept, cool shot, but unoriginal. Everyone else would look at me, looks at what I was doing and shoot me a puzzled look. It was at that point that I knew I was on to something. By shooting back at them and using the long ND filter I was able to capture the clouds moving in from the west which produced a aurora borealis type effect (the whole shot has a blue cast because of how late it was).

        My point here really isn’t to toot my own horn. It’s to implore us as landscape photographers to think outside the box when it comes to shooting these iconic locations and to provide an example of that. If we can start to look at these locations in new way, then I think we’d have way fewer “user conflicts” other there in Mother Nature…

        Cheers and great discussion.

        • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

          I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. You brought up some interesting points, but I don’t think they’re anything to do with the problem. You’re trying to tell people not to go there in the first place because you think the shot is unoriginal. But it’s not up to you to decide what’s original or not. The “unoriginal” argument isn’t anything new for landscape photographers.

          See, Travelers (not just photographers) love iconic locations. From the Golden Gate bridge to the Eiffel Tower, and on down the line. These locations are iconic for a reason. People have seen thousands, if not tens of thousands of photos from these locations, yet people still keep going back to them? Why bother if you’ve already seen it in a photo? Because there’s something about “you” being there that makes it different. Your photo. Your composition, your lighting, your weather (good or bad), your post processing… all of these things make up our experiences as a photographer. I looked up the definition of photographer and photography and there’s nothing about the need to be original in what you take photos of. Me personally, I don’t care how un-original the place is. If it’s a beautiful iconic place then I want to visit it and capture it with my own camera, and relive it with my own experiences.

          You told us your feelings – and that’s cool. But just because you want to “think outside the box” doesn’t mean everyone else does. Telling people to go to Mesa Arch at sunrise and not shoot the arch is like telling people to go to Paris and the Eiffel tower and not shoot the tower, but to “think outside the box” instead so your photo doesn’t look like everyone else’s. I’ve been to Mesa. There’s only so many ways to shoot the arch. But instead of making a good composition at the arch, I see people off to the side (not shooting the arch) at the key moment during sunrise trying to get a different shot. Then why go to Mesa arch in the first place. The star of the shot there is the glowing arch, with the sun rising and the mountains in the background. Some people won’t shoot it because they deliberately won’t like the “popular” anything. They buy a different phone than everyone. Eat at non-chain restaurants. Different cars. Different jeans. Different furniture, etc… Just to be different because they don’t like “popular” and see it as unoriginal. And that’s totally cool if it works for you – but just don’t assume it works for everyone else.

          Either way, thanks for thoughts. I happen to disagree, but it’s still a good discussion :-)

          • Me

            Hey Matt and thanks for the response.

            I get everything your saying, and in all honestly I don’t disagree with anything you say. For the record, I’m not really saying “Don’t go to or shoot the iconic locations”, if fact I did say, just as you did, that these sites are Iconic for a reason (and that reason is they make for beautiful photographs). And of course I agree with you that everyone’s who visits these locations images them a little bit differently. Heck I’ve shot plenty of iconic locations myself, so yes, I’m some what of a hypocrite for writing what I did.

            I guess I’m jaded by my geography, but it frustrates me to see so many “photo workshops” here in the Southwest take their clients to the same locations, line them up in the same spot(s), at the same times with their cameras all pointed in the same direction and teach them the same post processing techniques. Is that photography or is it paint by numbers? (You guys talk about the soccer mom photographers all the time on The Grid. I guess for me, I see this as the same thing) It’s my personal belief that as a profession and an art for, we can do better than that.

            What I’m really trying to say, is as nature photographers we should try and think beyond the “classic” compositions at these sites OR try to find the NEXT iconic shot. Now for the record, I’m not sure that any truly new iconic landscaping sites that REALLY exist anymore, but that does not mean I’m not going to stop looking for them. :-) All it takes is one outstanding image to make a site that “New classic” right?

            Now, we might not be successful in doing anything any different that anyone before us. That’s not point of the exercise. The point is, the craft is advanced by the THINKING process that goes into trying to do something different (and that can come from any and all steps in the imaging process from composition to post processing). What fails us at one locale might be exactly the technique that we need to apply at another.

            My other point is/was there ARE new and different ways to shoot these classic locations. A great example is the addition of a unique celestial event like a full or crescent moon, or maybe an eclipse if one is so lucky. We as photographers have so many unique tools at our disposal these days that photographers of pasts times never even dreamed of. For example, I can use google earth or smart phone apps to see when and where the sun will rise or set, where mountains, rock formations or buildings will throw shadows at any time of the day, any day of the year. I can use similar programs to visualize stars or the milkyway over these same formations. I realize that not everyone wants to take the time to research a location this thoroughly, but if one’s goal is to take an image that’s “new” and “different” that’s the sort of effort one has put in since so many of these locations have been shot to death (pun intended! :) ) .

            For an excellent example of this, check out Clinton Melander’s shot of last years solar eclipse over Horseshoe Bend. That shot is unbelievable.

            http://wordlesstech.com/2012/08/01/annular-solar-eclipse-at-horseshoe-bend/

            Using such techniques, there’s a shot that I stumbled across a year or two that I’ve yet to image near Moab. It’s a very recognizable, iconic SW location that’s been shot to death. But two days a year in separate months, something special happens there and despite my extensive prowling on google images and 500px for it I’ve never seen it shot in that way. (I’m not saying it hasn’t been, just that I’ve yet to find it) I attempted to get the image it last year, but mother nature didn’t cooperate and I was clouded out. I had company at that spot last year and the other photographers had no idea what was happening over the top of the cloud cover. I’ve already made plans to give it another go this year. :)

            Tom Till wrote a blog post several years ago about two other arches on the Colorado Plateau that “light up” at sunrise exactly as Mesa Arch does. Both require considerably more time and effort to get to than Mesa. One has hundreds or thousands of photos shot of it every day, the other two we’ve never heard of. Tom’s philosophy on the issue is similar to mine, the more time and effort one has to put into getting a shot, the better it is likely to be. I guess this is the point am really trying to make. The more time and effort we put into a shot, from the conceptual, to the imaging to the post processing the more ownership we will take of that image and hopefully the better it will be, particularly if the shot is of an already iconic location.

            Cheers and thanks again for providing a forum for this discussion.

  • Dennis Zito

    Great article Matt. It’s amazing to me that people can’t talk to people anymore with politeness and courtesy. This whole internet yelling and screaming at each other is total nuts! That is one reason I do not belong to any social media sites. The ability to be anonymous and just say anything discussing is intolerable to me. Anyway, I’ve had people wandering around places I’m trying to take a picture of and I either wait, or like you said, I’ve walked up to them and asked them politely to move. I did this at Disney World (of all places) and they were polite and moved. No big deal. In fact, they asked me to take their photo together … ! As an a side, who ever walked out there had a fun time cleaning their shoes! :-)

    Dennis

  • http://imagesbyBillA.com/ Bill Araujo

    Matt I agree with much of what you’ve said. I think many times it’s because of excitement and ignorance. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just don’t think most people know how their actions affect others or the environment.

    A year ago, while in Yellowstone, I searched along the Firehole River for about 45 minutes looking for an elk kill that had previously had wolves on it. The carcass had been drugged out of the river into tall grass. I only found it because the ravens gave it away. Being sure that I was more than 100 yards away from it, a ranger, who must have seen my parked car, found me and suggested that I move to a different location for safety. While she agreed that I was not in violation of being too close, she was concerned about bears coming from behind me. (I never leave my car without my bear spray!) After waiting for almost 3 hours , a black wolf returned.
    It was as though someone had announce it. All of a sudden, there must have been 40 to 50 people all around me making all kinds of noise and even getting in front of me. Of course I was the only one there using a tripod so you’d think they might have noticed but….
    I was extremely lucky to get a couple of good shots. While discouraging, I equated this and other similar episodes to enthusiasm and ignorance of these, what some might consider, inconsiderate people. I don’t think most even gave a thought of what they were doing.

    I’m very glad they got to see the wolf. Many may have never seen one before.

    I believe, as naturalists and photographers, it’s up to us to tell the story and to educate folks. You’ve done exactly that with this post Thanks for the insight and post.

    • dave

      Bill, I agree with what you are saying. The thing that is frustrating is what you said, “I don’t think most people know how their actions affect others or the environment”. Well, why not? Just stop and think for a few seconds. Again, seems like more and more times than not, people don’t stop, think, and consider how there actions may impact others. If I saw you at Yellowstone taking pictures of a wolf I would stop, see what you’re doing, but at the same time I would respect what you were doing. I wouldn’t get in front of you, make noise, or do anything to scare the wolf away. But now a days, people don’t care about that, their “enthusiasm” and their needs are more important than anyone else. Sorry if it seems like I’m ranting…kind of a sensitive topic I guess. Thanks for your point of view.

      • http://imagesbyBillA.com/ Bill Araujo

        Dave, I agree that it’s frustrating and even maddening that some folks don’t think or even care about how their actions affect others. I don’t know or understand all the reasons why but, like you, I can only guess. I just try not to let it get to me when it happens. I do my best as a naturalist and a docent to try to educate when I can. I’ve found the being respectful and decent seems to help most of the time.
        By Matt posting this and the discussion that has followed, hopefully, it will have a positive affect on someone. Most photographers that I’ve encountered have been just as you describe yourself, respectful and helpful. I try to be the same way. All that being said, I truly do appreciate and share your frustration.

  • http://commercialphotoservices.com/blog Alexandra’s Corner

    What? Whatever happened to the clone tool? I love how people still hang onto the “straight out of the camera” crap! Big deal, use the clone LOL and clean up the foot prints!!!!

    I guess this just goes to show how it is so much easier to go online and throw MUD than either figure out a way around it, or ask politely that people walk on air when their visit!

    Unreal.

  • http://www.ankh.co.nz/ Andrew Caldwell

    Matt, not having been to the Playa I assume that to get to the place where photographers take their stunning pristine photos of the unspoilt playa, they leave a trail of footprints behind them? And correct me if I am wrong but surely there are not footprints around all of the stones at the moment? Having a camera is not some automatic right to trump everyone else’s wishes / wants. If someone wants to experience Delicate Arch by meditating underneath it as the sun comes up then they should be allowed to; if it annoys the assembled 20 photog’s then that is there problem that they need to deal with. I hate getting people in my photo’s, but wouldn’t dream of telling them to move, it is their right to be there as much as it is my right to take a photo of them there

    • dave

      If you see someone about to take a picture of their family at the beach would you walk right in between them as he snaps a pic? You have the right to, right? But if you’re courteous, you wouldn’t. Same thing with the arch, yeah, you have every right to stand where you want and when you want, but if you care just an inkling about the 50 other people around you who payed the entrance fee and made the 2 mile hike and the reasons they’re there (photographer or not) then you would step aside and let everyone enjoy. And if you head out to the Playa, why would you feel the need to make the first foot prints around the stone? Again, if you’re just a bit courteous you might think of the people that will come later and not want to see boot prints all over. Boils down to being considerate of others and not so consumed by oneself.

  • http://www.gdanmitchell.com/ G Dan Mitchell

    National Park Service signs at the playa – right at the parking lot – and other information from the park, including road advisories, all tell visitors to not walk on the playa when it is wet.

    It is not “just mud” – the magic of the playa the visitors go to see, whether or not they are photographers, is the tracks that the rocks have left in the uniformly textured flat surface of this playa. The tracks ruin that surface.

    Contrary to the belief of those who haven’t been there, the damage from the footprints does not disappear quickly. In fact, there are tracks on the playa that are years old. Once the playa dries it becomes almost rock hard, and the tracks do not degrade and cannot be “fixed’ by the park service on anyone else.

    I don’t understand your fixation on photographers. Most photographers are at least as concerned with the protection and safe care of beautiful places like this. Yes, you can call up (or make up) a few outlier stories about bad actors among photographers, but that cannot be extrapolated to photographers as a group.

    As to the “two hour drive, and how can I resist” argument… the reason that people put up with that quite awful two hour drive (which I’ve done numerous times) is the specialness of the playa, which is more than just the rocks. Most of the time it is a place of immense open space, deep solitude, beautiful desolation, overpowering winds – and all of these features contribute to the stark beauty of the place. Going to such a place because of its beauty… and then doing things that degrade the very beauty that supposedly brought you there makes no sense, not to mention the fact that it is damned insensitive to the thousands of others who will follow you there in the future. Thinking that your own moment on the playa is so valuable that it is worth degrading the same experience for uncounted future visitors is the height of egotistic self-centeredness.

  • M L

    Matt,
    I agree 100% with the last two paragraphs of your post.
    If you arrive at site and there is an obstruction, people “in the way,” an unexpected wedding or parade, construction, lousy weather or some other problem work with the situation, work around it or take a shot of something else. If neither of these is possible, experiment with your equipment or just enjoy the scene.
    BTW: I see several shots here: a tight shot of the rock and footprints, just footprints in the mud with no mountains, v low angle head of footprints and rock, rock trail and footprints without rock.

  • beachmama

    Living in a tourist area I see so much of our natural beauty “loved to death” . . . I’ve had this discussion with an ocean advocate about our tide pools and how decimated they’ve become because they are visited by hundreds of school children bussed over for an educational day on the coast. Tough dilemma. I don’t feel I have anymore right than anyone else to be or do anything just because I have a camera in my hands . . . but sometimes it’s all I can do to keep my mouth shut . . .

    Thanks for posting this and stimulating great conversation Matt!

  • http://20sheets.wordpress.com/ Michael Lloyd

    Great blog Matt. I was in Death Valley in December. I was with a small group of photographers that were using medium and large format cameras. 1/2 digital and1/2 4×5 film. Those of us that were using 4×5 film cameras hauled quite a bit of weight, 40 pounds or so for me because I hauled my DSLR out too, about a mile out into the dunes to get a non-tourist image. The 5 of us spread out and set up to make the first light image. About 20 or 30 minutes after sunrise one of the photographers let out a loud (and equally disturbing)- “look at that guy. What an axxxxle. He’s ruining my shot.” Frankly, when I finally found him, my first thought was “wow, he hiked a long way. I wonder what he got”. He was a speck in the distance. His tracks showed up in the 4×5 negative but not in the DSLR (5DMKII) images but only if you pixel peep. It wasn’t worth getting upset about. I was there for the serenity as much as the photograph and the only person that broke the serenity was the loud photographer whining about someone doing what, deep down, he wished he had done.

    Photography for me is as much a social event as an opportunity to make an image. I don’t mean that the people that I am shooting with blabber on in loud voices, drink wine, eat cheese, and catch rays together. I may not even know the people that I am “with”. But i am sharing a moment with them even if I’m engrossed in Scheimfluge or some other photographic endeavor. When I was at Delicate Arch a number of years ago There were people all over the place. I met a family from Belgium. They were each fluent in numerous languages. Their son was fluent in 6. I met a couple on the trail to Delicate Arch that were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary together by returning to places where they spent their honeymoon (one assumes that they weren’t there for ahem… the deed. They were in their 90′s. I was pretty sure that they weren’t going to make it and it made me sad. When the proved us all wrong and showed up right at sunset, when the light was perfect, a cheer rose up through the crowd as we all realized that they made it. It was amazing shared moment. In the end my photographs weren’t that great. There were no clouds. The experience was memorable. Lastly, while hanging out with the throngs of people that invade the Grand Tetons every summer a couple of years ago I met a number of interesting and pleasant people. I loaned out my 800 f5.6 to a couple of guys so they could get better bear images. By far, aside from the non-photographer tourists, the worst offenders of common decency and etiquette were a small group of locals that considered themselves pros. Key words- considered themselves. I’ve already written too much so I’ll save you the stories… I’ll end with- photography is fun. It’s joy. It’s peace. Don’t muck it up by getting excited about things that you can’t control.

  • Greg Campbell

    I’ll gladly agree that there is an over abundance of loud, sanctimonious, I’m-more-outraged-than-you braying going on, but to equate this with footprints in the sand seems a reach. The playa damage will certainly be visible for years. How would you feel if someone spray painted Half Dome? If the the paint will weather away in a decade or so, what’s the big deal? ;)

  • http://brianwdowns.com/ Brian W. Downs

    This is far to well reasoned and logical to appear on the internet! Delete it immediately! /sarcasm

    I’ll refrain from making a big long comment on the situation and ask a question to frame the situation since I haven’t visited the area. How many of the traveling rocks exist on the playa? Are there only a handful or are there hundreds of them?

    Without knowing more details, my assumption is that this happened around the rock, or rocks, that are closest to the parking area. I’ll also assume that those rocks are also the least photographed for the same reason since photographers would want the best clean background.

    Unfortunately there appears to be two sets of footprints here. Some that are older (left) and some that are more fresh (everything else). There is no doubt that the future movement of this rock, and maybe others, is going to be impeded.

    If the same problem happens around the same rocks, and those are the ones that are the least photographed, then lets be thankful for that. Lets then make any signs around larger. Hopefully there are hundreds of these rocks and hopefully the parking area has fences to prevent anyone from really doing something disruptive out there.

  • RCG

    Excellent blog. I like and respect the fact that you gave consideration to photographers and tourists. You did an excellent job of doing so, and I agree with you. I think there are many people who are not aware of the popular photography locations let alone what goes in to capturing that beautiful image. However, a lot of people are aware of photoshop because we live in a digital, computer generated era, and I think “photoshop” has become a generalized term for “making things pretty” to those who aren’t in the photography field. So even if they saw that gorgeous image in a travel brochure, there’s a good chance they probably think it’s a “photoshop job”. When we go to a popular tourist destination, I think it’s fair to expect that there will be a lot of people there . . . that’s what makes it a popular tourist destination, and not everyone goes there for the same reason. I am there for the photography experience and nature experience. Others are there because they want their children and family to have a fun experience and memories that will last a life time. Finally, others are there because many places hold sacred and spiritual meaning and they are there for the spiritual experience. Whose experience is right? Whose experience is most important? Nobody’s experience is right, wrong, or more important that someone else’s experience. I do understand the frustration and am a firm believer in respecting nature. There have been times when we’ve gone to Yellowstone and there are 50 people all trying to get a photo of the elk that someone spotted off the side of the road and they are oblivious to everyone around them. There have been times when I’ve asked someone to move so I can get some shots and usually they are polite and willing to move, especially when they see photography gear. The last time we were in Yellowstone, I saw a couple that had ventured off a path where there was a sign clearly indicating that people are to remain on the path. Did I want to yell at them? Yes, but instead I politely asked them if they had seen the sign. They said they hadn’t and then got back on the path. Simply said, common courtesy and respect on behalf of photographers and tourists goes a long way.