By Chelsea Warren – Freelance Writer, Landscape Photographer and Nature Nut
“That guy.” You know the one. It’s the person who gets out of their RV rental in Yellowstone National Park to take a selfie with a 2,000-pound bison even though the park expressly forbids it. It’s the camper that leaves behind a mountain of trash along the trail, or the one that plays loud music long after quiet hours have begun at the RV campsite.
Outdoor spaces are sanctuaries not just for wildlife, but for people as well. They are places to escape our busy lives and where we can go to reconnect with those things that make us human and happy. So, come to nature and enjoy the heck out of it. But avoid being “that guy” who ruins it for everyone else – implement these principles of nature etiquette instead.
Don’t Be Trashy
Nothing is more mind boggling to me than making a sojourn into nature … and finding trash. It’s strange to think that people will make all the effort to get there, only to leave garbage behind that taints the landscape.
How to not be “that guy” in this situation: Practice Leave No Trace principles. Whatever you pack in, take it out with you. I am 100 percent that nerd that brings along a trash bag and picks up a extra garbage during my camping trips. Join me – all the cool kids are doing it!
Cleaning up my campsite, one beer cap at a time
Be Safety Conscious
I drive my parents absolutely bonkers with my outdoor adventures. It’s not that I’m doing anything crazy, but whenever you venture out into nature, there is always a slight element of risk – it isn’t called an adventure for nothing! But there’s a big difference between getting out of your comfort zone and needlessly putting yourself and those around you in dangerous situations. So, where’s the line?
How to not be “that guy” in this situation: Every national and state park has strict rules put into place to keep you safe. Here are a few commonly broken ones to consider recommitting to:
Maintain a safe distance from animals – for example, stay at least 100 years (300 feet) away from bears and wolves
Don’t feed wild animals– not only is our food bad for them, but this behavior leads animals to seek people out, which can lead to some hairy situations (pun intended)
Stay on the marked trails, especially near waterfalls, heights and when hiking in the Arizona desert (I learned that last one the hard way recently when I almost put my hand in a hole with a diamondback rattlesnake … turns out you should really head warning signs like the one below)
Embrace the Golden Rule
A few months ago, I went camping with some friends on public land in Flagstaff. We were surrounded on all sides by large groups of campers and were having a grand ol’ time. But there must have been a party-all-night notice that we didn’t get, because every single one of our neighbors blasted their music until 5:30 the next morning. We had planned on staying for three days but couldn’t bear the thought of another sleepless night.
So, we did the only thing we could do – we decided to go and meet our neighbors. We took them treats, enjoyed some time getting to know them, explained that we had a few grumpy people in our group that weren’t handling the lack of sleep from the night before all that well.
How to not be “that guy” in this situation: When camping, respect your neighbors. That second night of my Flagstaff camping trip, everyone blasted their music … until 10 p.m., when every single one of them turned it off and we were all able to enjoy the sounds of the crickets and the breeze through the trees as we got a good night’s rest. I can’t tell you what a difference that second night was from the first. It was a totally different experience, when we all practiced a little common courtesy.
Sleeping Chelsea v. Not Sleeping Chelsea – A BIG Difference!
Leave It Alone
As a landscape photographer, I love wild places and have a deep desire to preserve them. As I’ve started paying more attention to the ways I interact with nature, I’ve noticed certain habits, mine own included, that might actually be damaging these sacred spaces.
For example, I love to collect little mementos from my trips. My dad built a mini waterfall in my parent’s backyard and I used to love bringing back rocks from my travels for him to put in his waterfall. I brought a signature red rock from Zion National Park, a black pebble from a beach in England. And while these little stones may not seem like a big deal in the scheme of things, I realized in hindsight that I removed a piece of the landscape that never belonged to me and now can’t be enjoyed by other visitors.
How to not be “that guy” in this situation: From tiny flowers to ancient petroglyphs, none if it belongs to you, so leave it where you found it.
It’s unfortunately common for ancient petroglyphs – like the ones found across the Phoenix Valley – to be stolen
From RV camping and casual picnics to backpacking and national park hopping, we all have opportunities to be good stewards of our wild places. I look forward to running into you on the trail.