Lots of tourists follow a leader

Here is the author’s opinion and analysis:

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff

A stunning photo recently appeared on social media of a young lady in Arizona. She was standing on the edge of a cliff decked out in the colors of the setting sun. Her online followers immediately cried over where the photo was taken, so “I could have one just like her.”

Turns out it was taken on an off-track trail at the end of a potholed dirt road in the Navajo Nation and required a permit even to enter the area. Also, I bet she didn’t climb that precarious perch on that cliff in those fancy shoes.

A local guide lamented that the area would now receive too many tourists on Instagram. These people will seek to replicate the situation themselves perched on the same ledge, possibly wearing the same shoes.

This sort of thing has led some to decry the unsavory habits of influencers on Instagram. These are the people who trample fields of wildflowers in order to get a shot of themselves being offered a sponsored product. Or who depict their colorful paintings on the faces of wild rocks.

People also read…

Instagram photos taken on private land had the owners locking their gates due to the hordes of people walking around looking for the exact location of that perfect post. However, the perfect shot doesn’t show the queue of people eagerly awaiting their turn for glory.

Even blatant offenders get in on the act. Some men filmed themselves illegally swimming with endangered pups in Nevada – then posted the video. Do they really believe that only rebellious spirits who don’t conform to “petty” federal regulations will watch said video? Or that park rangers and police don’t have smartphones? Whatever they were thinking, it made law enforcement easier.

What happened to the old spontaneity? Imitation is a form of flattery, but is the only photo worthy of being copied from someone else’s? There’s even a website that apparently allows you to paste family photos at vacation spots without the hassle of visiting them. Big time saver.

One day while riding my bike, I passed a couple getting ready for their flawless photoshoot. When I came back an hour later, they were still working on getting the hair, clothes and demeanor right. The scene was an afterthought.

People also fall into imitation mode because clearly, just standing on an edge isn’t sexy enough. One has to jump or pretend to fall, which unfortunately may join the real thing. Search and rescue groups deplore the glut of visitors who only want the “perfect” picture. There’s even a word for them: murder.

I remember the old “mom’s” adage where wayward children are asked: “If all your friends had jumped off a cliff, wouldn’t they?”

Then I discovered a whole kind of Instagram post dedicated to women who are into hiking and climbing in heels. I assumed they hiked in real shoes and then changed for filming, but no, some climb mountains in heels. What could go wrong?

Back in the day we visited the back country to get away from other people. Now we digitally invite them to follow and give us “likes”. If a person climbs a mountain and doesn’t post it online, did the hike really happen?

Sometimes the experience does not need to exist in reality. One summer, I worked as an “educational liaison” for a local company that featured a diorama of the Grand Canyon in their yard. Buses of tourists were lining up to get their picture taken in front of… that picture of the valley. I wanted to shout, “The real thing is only seven miles away!”

My son encouraged me to become an altruist. He told me there aren’t many women my age who do the things I do. I think that’s a compliment. But if I did, my influence would be unfiltered. No makeup, just hiking boots, clothes made for roughing and wild hair like an Old West bug.

Maybe I can start a trend: the silly, dirty effect. Sweaty, beyond tired, what really looks like he’s climbed that cliff.

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to stimulating lively conversations about the West. She is an outdoor teacher at Arizona State.

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