In March of 2019, I drove out to Anza Borrego for my first time ever. Though I had lived less than two hours away for the previous few years, it wasn’t until the historic super bloom that I felt the need to go.
Where did I learn about it? Instagram, of course. Every spring and summer, our social media feeds are filled with golden poppies, bright yellow mustard flowers, and petals of every color.
Spring of 2019 was a record-breaking super bloom season. Crowds from all over California flocked to the SoCal desert to view this beautiful phenomenon, and snap their pictures for social media. As more flower viewers shared their photos, more visitors came to these places.
Flower fields suffered trampling, overuse, and abuse. While this behavior was absolutely not okay, what I remember most vividly from those few months was the social media bullying that came out of it. Certain pictures and accounts were targeted with harassment and even death threats for making one wrong step off trail.
Inevitably, more people are getting outside. We need to do our best to make the outdoors as inclusive and welcoming as possible while still protecting our public lands. An online culture with an emphasis on education and initiation is much more inviting than the gatekeeping and nit-picking we see too frequently. So, this wildflower season, I encourage you to think about how you interact with both nature and the other humans out there, enjoying the blooms along side.
Why Is Following LNT Principles so Important?
Principle 2 of Leave No Trace (LNT) is Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, or more succinctly, Travel on Trails. Wildflower meadows are incredibly delicate places. Venturing off trail, even if flowers are not present, damages soil and can prevent future generations of flowers from blooming in these areas. Especially in high-traffic areas, it’s imperative to stick to established trails and not wander off to lie down in a field for selfies or a moment of meditation. If you’re on an off-trail adventure in the alpine, do your best to stick to rocks or dirt.
So, to kick out of the gates strong: DO stay on designated trails, and pick up any trash along the way.
DO consider visiting places apart from those most commonly tagged on Instagram. For example, in the SoCal desert there is a poppy field right off I-15 that consistently draws massive crowds. Meanwhile, the nearby Anza Borrego Desert State Park has plenty of blooms as well, and much less traffic. Spending some time to research less-crowded super bloom areas will reduce your own impact on the land.
Seeing someone using a social trail: “The rules of this area get super confusing when a ton of people visit. This actually isn’t an official trail, it just looks like one because so many people have ventured onto it. If we let it rest, more flowers will be able to grow here in the future.”
DON'T condescend. Imagine if it’s this person’s first time visiting the outdoors, and they don’t have nearly the breadth of experience that you do. Coming from a place of respect encourages that person to learn more about LNT principles. If you do see others using social trails or treating an area with disrespect, there is a kind way to educate. Here are a couple of examples:
Watching a group of people venture off trail for a picture: Offer to take a picture of their entire group. Use it as an opportunity to encourage them to huddle somewhere on a trail, with still a beautiful background.
DO take photos, only. And leave the wildflower blooms for others to enjoy. LNT Principle 4 is Leave What You Find, including plants and rocks of all types.
DO slow down! A spring bloom in the desert or a high alpine field carpeted by wildflowers is a truly gorgeous sight!
Social Media Etiquette
If You’re Thinking About Commenting, DO Consider …Has my point already been made?
Do a quick scan through the comments before putting in your two cents. If someone has already kindly pointed out that the Original Poster (OP) is engaging in non-environmentally friendly behavior, there’s no need to pile on.
Am I framing this in a way that is constructive?
If a message is too loud, it won’t be received at all. It’s easy to simply leave a mean comment about the “wrong” or “bad” thing that a person is doing. However, challenge yourself to come from a place of respect, always. Maybe share where you originally learned how to treat said place in an LNT-friendly way.Does this need to be public?
If you see a photo of your friend, family member, or acquaintance doing something questionable on public lands, a private message is the kindest and most thoughtful way to educate. A public comment encourages the OP to defend their point of view in front of their other followers, while an informative yet kind private message about how to visit the area next time will likely be received much more openly.
Would I want someone to speak this way to my significant other, child, best friend, etc.?
Everyone. Makes. Mistakes. Period. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with outdoor knowledge bestowed upon them. Yes, trampling through delicate wildflower fields is no good. And ... it could easily be someone you love making the same mistake. Think about how you would want someone to engage with them.
May your trails be filled with bright blooms and even brighter interactions — both with people and in nature!
Katie is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. When she's not behind her laptop, you can find her guzzling instant coffee in the backcountry or developing a new and expensive outdoor hobby. To see her adventures and occasional long rambles, follow her on Instagram @katelyn_ali
Photography also by Amy Hatch, Abby Broughton, Li Zetong.