With our state’s population on the rise, I wanted to remind people of the responsibility we owe the wild places in Utah. A recent trip I took to Temple Mountain on the edge of the San Rafael Swell was an eye-opening experience. When I started camping in this area more than 10 years ago, the earth had time to renew itself in between visitors. The few campsites that existed there were primitive, small and clean, and a sense of solitude was easy to find. A decade later, it’s a very different place.
The small fire pits that once existed have been turned into charred sandstone structures that stand 3 feet high and are filled with aluminum, broken glass, tin foil, and other materials that don’t burn into ash. The surrounding landscape is scattered with shotgun casings, strings of toilet paper, empty beer boxes and cigarette packs. Campsites are stacked one on top of the other so that more and more people can squeeze in. The abusive visitors now beat down the earth that once had a chance to recover from human impact. Junipers have been uprooted to fuel fires, ATV tracks blanket nearly every inch of the area, and names and obscenities are shamelessly carved into the sandstone walls.
A trip to the desert means different things to different people. I’ve been there to party and I’ve been there to reflect, and I would very much like to continue going there and having it be the natural and beautiful place I’ve always known and appreciated. Those who visit these areas have a moral obligation to be respectful.
Responsibility and accountability matter. If you can’t respect that, then please don’t stray beyond the places you already know about. Better still, just stay put in your respective city, suburb or town.
Bradley J. Matkin
Salt Lake City