In January of this year, the government shutdown compromised the sanitation of Joshua Tree National Park. The park experienced unhealthy conditions that were dangerous for both visitors and the environment due to insufficient funding needed for maintenance.
Of course this all happened right after my friends and I booked a trip to go in February.
My trip was filled with millions of grains of desert sand, thousands of trees that looked like they were dreamt up by Dr. Seuss, hundreds of boulders to climb, nine adventurous and good-natured friends, and one momentous, freezing sunset over a magnificent valley.
All that, and I was surrounded by a bunch of pricks (aka cactus needles).
I accidentally grazed my (almost brand-new) Patagonia sleeve along a cactus with the tiniest, practically-invisible prickers. Throughout the rest of the day (if I’m being totally honest, it was more like a week), I would get stabbed by some of them at random times. As much as I HATE those freakin’ cactus needles, it happened for a good cause.
I stopped in my tracks when I saw one of my friends toss his clementine peel on the ground. I bent down to snatch it up and throw it in a plastic bag I had in my backpack.
You’ve probably caught on and realized this must be a lesson worth teaching. It was.
I explained to him the idea of Leave No Trace.
The “leave no trace” initiative is a set of principles to follow to protect the outdoors. Whether it be in the wilderness, a national park, or even your own backyard, you can practice minimal impact by leaving what you find, disposing of waste properly, and respecting wildlife.
Many people are under the impression that it’s harmless to toss a fruit peel on the ground since its “biodegradable.” Yes, that is true, but it’s important to consider the effect that would have on wildlife. Some animals that are often exposed to the waste humans throw away are beginning to rely on those scraps as their food source. Eventually, this could lead to these animals no longer foraging food in nature, which in turn would shorten their lifespan, and ultimately disrupt a healthy ecosystem.
A few months later, I get a text from my friend who tossed the clementine peel. He came across an article on Reddit that reminded him of what happened in Joshua Tree. He agreed that the fact “biodegradable items are not always beneficial to the environment” isn’t as well-known as it should be, and thanked me for stopping him. (You’re welcome! ) From the moment I saw the peel hit the ground, I knew this was a chance to educate others, with the hopes that they will do the same.
National Parks play a critical role in our lives: they serve as the backbone of our economy. Joshua Tree is a unique place with expansive landscapes, native funny-lookin’ trees, tight crevices, and hidden desert oases that everyone should be able to experience, in the same untouched, pristine condition.
I didn’t intend for this blog post to turn into a total nature lover/tree-hugger/nerd rant, but it’s sooo important to take care of our beautiful planet! Bringing more awareness to environmental issues is something we can all do that requires minimal effort. But if you’re too lazy for that, just go watch One Strange Rock on Netflix. That might change your mind to do so.
P.S. never touch a cactus, people. Avoid at all costs.
Also, if you really want to impress me, you can start raising awareness RIGHT NOW by sharing this blog post. I won’t mind the free promotion/extra love.