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We’re ruining our special places

By Chuck Woodbury

Many years ago, when I was beginning my writing career, I wrote occasional freelance articles about places to visit in Northern California for my then-local newspaper The Sacramento Bee. Its circulation was about 250,000.

I recall worrying that writing about little-known places to such a big audience would cause them to be overrun and spoiled. My travel writer friends and I talked about this. It concerned us all. Today, millions of regular folks have their own audiences because of social media. Few of them, I believe, understand the consequences of how sharing their “finds” (nearly all well-intended) is spoiling our collective travel experiences.

For example, decades ago I stumbled upon a beautiful but hidden waterfall in the Sierra mountains along a washboard dirt road that was barely traveled. The waterfall, still unnamed today, was as magnificent as dozens of others I have seen since, most of those alongside state and federal highways with a pullout or parking area and a manicured trail leading to the special place.

The unnamed waterfall as seen today on Google Maps. The dirt road where I stopped is in the top right of the photo.

I came upon my secret waterfall when working my college summers for the U.S. Forest Service. I found it by accident when I pulled over to eat my sack lunch and heard the roar of the falls. It became one of my favorite places to take a lunch break.

Today, someone who is active on social media might stumble upon those falls just as I did. And what would he or she do? Post a photo of it to Facebook, Instagram, etc., for all their friends to see, who would then share it with their friends. The once little-known place could become a circus, overrun by visitors.

Tourists gawk at Snoqualmie Falls near Seattle. The word is out and the crowds come (and share on social media)

European travel guru Rick Steves has unintentionally ruined the appeal of countless little hidden treasures in Europe — small hotels, cafes and other gems — by writing about them in his best-selling guidebooks and showcasing them on his PBS-TV series “Rick Steves’ Europe”. His “finds” are soon packed with “Stevies” with their guidebooks in hand. You and I have seen this happen to our own favorite places here at home. The word gets out and the place gets swarmed. Wonderful out of the way campgrounds suddenly fill up, squeezing you and me out.

My daughter, Emily, an avid hiker, tells me that trails in the Seattle area, which only years ago were lightly traveled, are now packed, their appeal muted.

If you have a “secret place” off the beaten path where you boondock, you likely know what I’m talking about. Someone else stumbles upon your special place and raves about it on social media. The next time you visit you find a crowd or the trash they left behind.



IT’S NO WONDER the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have closed some areas after they were overrun because of such exposure, where their GPS coordinates were shared far and wide.

Alas, little can be done. We all love to share and Facebook is here, like it or not, and not going away. It makes me happy to tell a friend about a special place they should visit. But to tell thousands or tens of thousands? I try to avoid that.

So, my point? Enjoy your secret gems before the word gets out (and that includes little-known campgrounds). And, if you are active on social media, please resist telling the world about your special spot. If you do, and the post should go even modestly viral, kiss whatever you loved about the place goodbye. Sometimes ya just gotta keep a secret a secret.

RELATED POST: The trashing of our public lands. Case in point.

##RVT1059

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Michael Galvin, PhD
1 month ago

Another effect of the greatest threat to civilization: Overpopulation!

Kris
1 month ago

My husband and I went to Europe in 1974 for 6 weeks and had a 2 week Brit Rail Pass and a 4 week Eurail pass. We just wandered around to the next town that looked interesting. I so appreciate that trip. Now with internet (and Rick Steves guidebooks), nothing would be a surprise or an unexpected treasure in our travels. We would have researched every potential travel destination on the internet, seen countless pictures of the new destination before even arriving, read Wikipedia articles about the site and all sense of spontaneity and discovery would have been lost. I do so very much appreciate having lived some decades of life before the internet arrived. Ironically, as I sit here reading articles on the internet and sending comments on the internet.

Irv
1 month ago

It’s OK with me to keep special places secret. What bugs me is people who post photos or descriptions of special sites but won’t share the location. It feels like taunting!

If you want to keep the location secret, don’t post anything about it!

Jake
1 month ago

Even if all of us kept quiet about our places or even just shared them with our friends, the real danger is the YouTubers and bloggers who make money by advertising the hidden gems. They are financially incentives to spoil it for the rest of us. Just like the Rick Steves book examples. The downside of it being so easy to share information. 🙁

Ron Yanuszewski
1 month ago

Yup, People ruin everything. Nobody likes rules or regulations but we’re forced to live with them in all aspects of life because people, in general, suck.

Barnjai
1 month ago

Mixed feelings about this. We enjoyed The Great Smoky Mountains National Park back in the 70s when it was “The Most Visited National Park” at about 5-6 million people. Those days are gone forever. 2021 saw over 14 million visitors. You now need reservations to hike some of the trails and have to win a lottery to see lightning bugs. You can still find quiet hikes if you are willing to walk a mile or two off the main roads on some of the less popular trails but you do have to sit in traffic to get to those trail heads. Do I wish I could have kept the Smokies to myself . . . kinda, but I’m a Buckeye who moved to Tennessee in 1977 so I can’t really complain about people “finding” the Smokies. That’s what I did! I love “discovering” on my own or learning about a “secret place” from a fellow traveler or a local.

B Vickery
1 month ago

Mr Woodbury
You are so right. It would be selfish to think you could change the growth, & keep a secret. I have seen it through my 65 years. I recall a book on Hot tubs came out and my moms favorite was on the cover (my mama cried). Also in the reading was one my dad help the rancher build near Mammoth Lakes. I have a picture of me in front of it in 1966. impossible to get in them today, for the number of people.
Mid 1800’s My family came to the San Gabriel Valley, Cal. My Grandfather was a Lookout Ranger near Mt Baldy. I could practically see the growth move. By the way I thought all kids had a grandpas that had Lookouts…..
I tell people the big city has moved in and I went East to Joshua Tree Area 25 years back where we always had cabins. I knew it would eventually find us here, and it has. The only way you can control your space is to own it, then still stuff can happen, for the greater good??
Like your writings
B Vickery

Roy Davis
1 month ago

Interesting! So you’re saying we should keep our “hidden gems” to ourselves so we won’t be disturbed by others. Sounds self-centered to me. Just because you don’t want to see overcrowding, that doesn’t mean you keep wonderfully beautiful places to your self and deny others the opportunity to enjoy it. If you truly love something, you want others to love it as well, even if it is inconvenient.

chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

I certainly don’t tell anyone on the internet. I’ve worked too hard to find my spots to simply give them away.

Last edited 1 month ago by chris
Roy Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  chris

So they’re “your” spots? Hmmm.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

Oh, you know what he means, Roy. Kinda like my 18+ acres of absolutely gorgeous mountain property with a river running through it. Semi-remote and totally undeveloped, surrounded by miles of wilderness. Yeah, on paper it says I “own” it, but I’m actually just borrowing it temporarily from Mother Nature and the black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, deer, etc., etc., whose home it really is. I’m just glad that they’re willing to share it with me. No people, no garbage, no noise except the river, the wind rustling through the trees, and the animals. That’s “my” little private piece of paradise. Have a great day. 😀 –Diana aka Mountain Mama

Last edited 1 month ago by RV Staff
Tommy Molnar
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

Sorry Roy, but I totally agree with Chris. I won’t use the term “my” so as not to raise your ire, but my wife and I never “social media out” our fave boondocking spots. We don’t want to roll up and find those special spots already occupied. If someone finds them on their own, so be it. But I’m not helping!

Barnjai
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Exactly!

Gary
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

Or not.

Ron Yanuszewski
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

You know what he means, don’t take it so hard.

Roger B
1 month ago
Reply to  Roy Davis

The point seems to be, and we have seen this. Is that the hordes ruin everything they touch. It’s impossible to go anywhere that you don’t see trash left behind by them.

Bob
1 month ago

Sadly, it appears that crowding is inevitable. However what really aggravates me is to find what I assume is a secluded place, only to find some narcissist has carved or spray painted their initials or name onto a tree or rock.

Lee Brandt
1 month ago

Amen

Marie Beschen
1 month ago

I write a travel blog and have worried about the same thing more than once. I have one favorite cg that I love, it’s quite small and out of the way. I did mention it once, and then never again for that same reason! That said, “we” are also “those” people too…think about it folks, “we” may not be the ones leaving trash, but “we” may be your neighbors, making reservations, camping near you, traveling to the same areas, wanting to see the same sights, etc. It’s not “them”, it’s “us”. We are in this together, “them” is YOU. 😉

Wayne
1 month ago

I don’t know the answer to this question but am concerned about the future of RV’ing. We are new to this lifestyle. I can say that in our short foray into “the life.” I guess it’s the way one is brought up. Living on the Gulf Coast most of my life and seeing the desecration of the endless sand by multi-storied condos is tantamount to the destruction in any other location the city dwellers yearn for. I find it interesting that so many seek to live in the concrete and glass jungles but spend inordinate amounts of money to live “the simple life” in our locales. Many of them have similar roots yet seem to have forgotten them. My argument is they are accustomed to having someone else take care of the left-behinds. They have become accustomed to others doing the clean-up. Such a pity. And don’t get me started on the endless parade of dogs peeing on every stick tree, rock or any other object, and leaving the area soiled. Oh for the days of “NO DOGS ALLOWED.”

Suru
1 month ago
Reply to  Wayne

I agree about the dogs. I live in Southern Utah where there are tons of gorgeous hikes. Unfortunately on almost every hike I take now I run into “poop bags” laying on the trails. Pretty soon irresponsible dog owners are going to get all the trails closed to dogs.

Gary
1 month ago
Reply to  Suru

You can’t even go to Home Depot without having to walk around a bunch of dogs.

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

I often post pictures of favorite out-of-the-way boondocking spots. And people often ask where they are, and I’m happy to tell them. In fact, we’re headed for one in a couple of hours: it’s in Montana. 😀

Buddrick
1 month ago

Exactly! That’s all I going to say.

Marybeth
1 month ago

Hey Chuck! Didn’t you just provide details about a cool place that isn’t that hard to find? With the info you provided and some knowledge of the general area, it’s a secret no more.

Edward J Wullschleger
1 month ago
Reply to  Marybeth

You’d be surprised by how hard it is to find something like that on Google just from a photo and a general description.

Gary
1 month ago

I found it in about 30 seconds.

Wayne C
1 month ago

“Many years ago” there were fewer people. In Oregon for example the population has more than doubled since 1970. It stands to reason that everything is going to become more crowded. That doesn’t mean places have to be trashed but after looking around it seems likely

RJay
1 month ago

Here in our hometown of Crested Butte CO we have been over run by tourist campers in the past few years. Unfortunately, they have often chosen to camp where no campsite has ever existed, damaging natural landscape and creating eyesore fire rings. Even camping right on the county roads! Thankfully, the county has started to create and enforce regulated camping, but their resources are limited. It’s a shame that common sense is not common!

Lisa Adcox
1 month ago
Reply to  RJay

Crested Butte is such a gorgeous town. We visited after staying the summer in Gunnison, CO. We visited areas including the National Park in area that I had never heard of. Love that part of CO.

Primo Rudy's Roadhouse
1 month ago

Telling about a favorite camping place is a kin to telling about a fishing honey hole; silence is golden

John Hicks
1 month ago

In at least half the country, state and national parks were previously private property, not public lands. The land was unavailable to us.

Ran
1 month ago

Totally agree Chuck. I feel the same way about reservations and how to get them. Everyone wants to out-book the next person. Another case of too many RV’rs and not enough places to go. Maybe, like Oregon is doing, charge out of State travelers and other countries significantly more $. I’m just saying………

Nomadic Noble
1 month ago
Reply to  Ran

I agree. We all pay for our national parks when we pay our taxes. Visitors from other countries get a free ride by simply paying the same entry fee that we all pay. Double the entry fee…….probably won’t slow them down but will help the maintenance services at the parks.

Dave
1 month ago
Reply to  Nomadic Noble

That is an awesome idea

Pat
1 month ago
Reply to  Nomadic Noble

I totally agree

suzanne Ferris
1 month ago
Reply to  Nomadic Noble

The worse the road condition the fewer the RV /style camper vans and their companion animals. Our best hot spring experiences have come word of mouth from locales who like the looks of us.

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