Visiting National Parks and Monuments With Respect
By Kimberly Merriman
I was driving back to camp from a sweaty hike in Hunter Canyon on my last day in the Moab area. I had rented an Escape campervan for a spring break trip through Utah, and on day 12, my campervan had come to feel like home. I just happened to glance to my left and saw a giant boulder skirted by a few squat, wooden fences just off the road.
“That must be the birthing rock from the guidebook!” I said to my friend in the passenger seat. We pulled over and walked down a short, steep, gravelly hill to the boulder. It was, in fact, the birthing rock. On one burnt orange face of the rock were several cream-colored figures etched into the surface. A birthing sack emerged from one boxy figure with limbs splayed; a couple of centipedes sat below it, a larger human-like figure smiled next to it while smaller human and animal figures dotted the rest of the panel.
As we circled the boulder, we found several more petroglyphs, some triangular humans, and something snakelike, little footprints. We took them in for a few minutes in silence, imagining the people who had been there hundreds or thousands of years ago, stopping along their way to make their marks. I remember being impressed that the images were still intact, that for all the visitors along this road over the years, no one had thought to harm the site.
After Returning Home From Our Trip
A few weeks after I returned from my trip, I came across a photo of the birthing rock on Instagram. Atop one of the panels, someone had scrawled racist words and obscene drawings. That quiet awe and connection to the past we were lucky enough to have for a few moments at the birthing rock will be now entwined with hate speech and obscenity for future visitors. The Indigenous cultures whose ancestors left these ancient messages are disrespected and violated. This disappointing news was a reminder to ensure that I visit archaeological sites and sacred spaces with respect, leaving as little impact as possible.
While this example was obviously intentional disrespect to the land and to the Indigenous people who have inhabited these lands for thousands of years, some of us may not be aware of the less obvious negative impacts we have as visitors. There’s no better time to learn more about how we can respectfully visit and appreciate these sacred spaces we are lucky enough to have access to in the outdoors.
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles
One of the simplest ways to ensure you’re being respectful of the land, its inhabitants, and its history is by following the 7 Leave No Trace Principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Read more about how to implement these principles on your Escape Campervan trip on our blog.
Here Are A Few More Easy-To-Remember Basics For Visiting National Parks and Monuments With Respect
Take A Long Look But Don’t Touch
If you’re lucky enough to spot petroglyphs or pictographs, don’t touch them. The oils from our skin can darken or completely erase them over time.
It’s less common these days to find artifacts like arrowheads and pottery sherds, but they are still out there. It’s important that they stay there. Not only is the removal of artifacts from the land a form of defacement and disrespect, but it’s also an illegal way to erase a bit of history. Take pictures if you like, but leave the artifacts where they lie.
Ruins such as walls or structures are delicate. Don’t touch or enter them. Take a peek, but keep your hands to yourself.
Handle Your Waste Responsibly
Check local regulations for human waste disposal. Near many archaeological sites, it is required that you pack out your human and dog waste out of respect for the Indigenous culture and sacred sites and to prevent water contamination. Pack out your trash, too, and take any you find along the way.
Pay The Fees
Paying the posted fees for entry, parking, and use helps keep these spaces safe, clean, and accessible. It’s usually a small price to pay to experience the beauty and history of the places you visit.
Plan Your Next Adventure With Escape
Book your next trip in the great outdoors with Escape Campervans. Memorize the 7 Leave No Trace Principles (fun road trip game!) and go discover petroglyphs, pictographs, and ruins, paying them the respect and reverence they deserve.