Wilderness is not just the preservation of the world, it is the world.Gary Snyder
If you have been reading my blog for awhile you have no doubt figured out that I am not a big fan of crowds, especially on the trail. It is of course a recurring theme in these posts, one I come back to because I have never figured out what to do about it. As always, the people I meet on the trail have as much right to be there as I do, and I believe that they are there for the same reason that I return to the trail again and again, despite the crowds: a desire to be in a beautiful place and to walk there.
This is why I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona in early March. I expected it to be crowded. It was. It was also beautiful. In popular tourist spots like Sedona, I typically look for the less popular trails and hike further past those landmarks that draw the crowds. This strategy was only partially successful on this trip.
The city of Sedona has created a shuttle system that takes hikers like myself to most trailheads. During the off season the shuttle is optional, but in the month of March when college students and others on spring break flood the town and the parking lots, most of the trailhead lots are closed, and parking is limited to the shuttle lots.
This did not seem like such a bad idea. I am always happy to let someone else do the driving, especially when I am unfamiliar with an area. It was disappointing however to arrive at the shuttle lot in the morning and find that it was closed with a sign and chain across the entrance: “Shuttle Lot Full.” I drove to another lot which was not closed and hiked to Cathedral Rock, a wonderful hike, but not the less crowded trip I had planned. The next day the same thing happened.
On the return trip on the shuttle that day I talked with the driver about the parking problem. He advised me that plans are underway to build more lots and increase the shuttle runs. Eventually the Forest Service hopes to close all trailheads to parking so that hikers will have to take the shuttles. They view this as a means of decreasing the crowding on the trails. If the shuttle lots are closed, too bad.
We had the usual conversation about “public land.” He argued that since the land belongs to the people it should be open to anyone who wants to hike there. This is an argument I have engaged in often, whenever the subject of crowding comes up with other hikers. This time I found it hard to take sides. I had paid for a plane ticket, rented a car, and spent a week in a hotel. I knew it was going to be an expensive trip and had budgeted accordingly, but it was disappointing to be turned away from so many trails that beckoned to me.
It did not take long though to figure out why the Forest Service wants to limit the people who hike the Sedona trails everyday. Signs of overuse were glaring. The trail to Cathedral Rock was bordered with a wire fence, and the sign said all off trail use is prohibited. On that day the trail to the summit was closed for trail reconstruction work that had been delayed this winter by heavy snows. About a half dozen hikers were ignoring the signs and making their way to the summit off trail, trampling the fragile plants that hang on precariously in that harsh desert environment.
At the trailhead additional signs encouraged hikers to volunteer to help maintain Sedona’s beautiful trail system. This included Poop Patrol and Litter Patrol, not exactly high on my list of how I want to spend time on the trail but apparently necessary.
The following day I hiked to Devil’s Bridge, perhaps the most popular trail in the Sedona system. The last half mile or so involves a steep ascent that was treacherous on that day as the melting snow created a steady flow of water down the trail. I joined a line of hikers grabbing for handholds and stable footing. The tension was high as many of the descending hikers were obviously frightened and were not particularly friendly. When I arrived at the bridge it was lined with people taking selfies. I turned around and returned quickly to the trailhead. This was indeed a beautiful place, but I did not want to be there.
Perhaps the trails should just all be closed. I have been thinking about that. No one really wants that solution, not even this crochety old woman who longs for the quieter days on the nation’s trails. It is not really a solution at all and defeats the purpose of having them. I like to think that all those people who lined up to see Devil’s Bridge returned with more than selfies. Many trail associations insist that by attracting more people to these wild places, they will work to preserve them. Maybe more of them will sign up for Poop Patrol.
I made the trip to Sedona so that I could be in a beautiful place and do some early season hiking. I achieved both of those goals, but I was glad to be home. Poop patrol here is limited to my own backyard, where Lulu’s deposits have been frozen and buried by snow all winter long. It is time to care for this small piece of the wild that is my home.
One thought on “Poop Patrol and Other Trail Pastimes”
Hi. I always look forward to your essay
div>every Sunday. I