You can’t go to Monument Valley without getting italicize: the shot - you know the one I’m talking about. The Forrest Gump, “I think I’m gonna go home now”, iconic shot standing on an abandoned road, in the middle of the desert, with a stunning backdrop of red monuments in all shapes and sizes - or so, I thought.
I deliberately took the long route home from a camping trip to drive through Monument Valley. In my imagination, it was this lonely desert road, devoid of traffic and people. We’d pull off, I’d get my shot and then we’d eat our pasta salad as the sun set over the Valley.
As with many things on Instagram, I’ve come to learn, the images on your feed don’t tell the whole story. At the base of a hill on Highway 163, there were a dozen or so cars at a pull-off, surrounded by groups of people with tripods and props, in long flowy dresses, actively changing - it looked like a movie set. We crested the hill and stopped at an abandoned pull-off and watched as cars whizzed by in either direction going 70mph. As soon as there was a break in traffic, a group would scurry into the middle of the highway and start shooting. A semi honked his air horn as he crested the hill to find a group of people standing in the middle of the highway.
I watched, horrified, from the top of the hill as group after group risked their lives for the shot. Did their mothers never warn them about playing on the highway?
This kind of behavior is, unfortunately, all too prevalent. Look up places like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, Angel’s Landing in Utah and Half Dome in California on Instagram and you’ll see scores of people throwing common sense to the wind and doin’ it for the ‘gram.
I get it - I totally do. I love seeing the world from the highest viewpoint (my Instagram handle is even @airundermyheels). It’s tempting to scramble somewhere that looks a little sketchy, or dangle my feet over the edge, or duck under ropes or chains to get the perfect shot. It’s easy to let the adrenaline kick in, and friends egg you on. It’s easy to imagine the image you’re going to get and the likes and comments it will produce and squash the voice inside your head.
But your safety is never worth a like. Especially when there’s specific rules or signage preventing you from being wherever you’re thinking about being.
Not only are those rules in place to ensure your safety and the safety of others, but they’re there to ensure the safety and preservation of the natural place you’re in.
There’s a place in Colorado called Hanging Lake. It’s a beautiful lake tucked into the Rockies with a really fragile ecosystem. Into the lake juts a log, that anyone who looks at has to admit, is the perfect photo opp. But there’s a sign prohibiting standing on the log. Hanging Lake has a very delicate ecosystem. Entering the lake is forbidden and disturbance of the sediment at the bottom alters the lake’s makeup and effects the flora and fauna. There’s good reason to stay off the log, and yet I frequently see ‘grams with people standing on it.
I’m sure most of us are guilty of doing something solely for the ‘gram. Ordering expensive and pretty desserts, visiting a location, posing like a dork in front of hundreds of strangers - but where do we draw the line? When does creative expression become needless risk?
It’s easy to get carried away with Instagram - the likes, the numbers, the instant gratification. But it’s important to constantly evaluate what we’re doing and if we’re going to far. We’re all here because we love exploring and we love the wild. If we’re taking needless risks, if we’re impacting our wild places, just for a 4x4 square, is it worth it?
I don’t think so - be safe friends and keep it wild.