Going Green in the Desert
Love the desert - but not to death
It's hard to believe endless miles of sand, dirt and rock need our protection, but these seemingly barren wastelands are teeming with thousands of species of flowers, reptiles, insects and mammals. The extremes that make deserts so unwelcoming to humans also make them fragile. Temperature swings, limited rainfall and unforgiving winds create a sensitive ecosystem that can quickly be thrown out of balance by human intervention - even if those humans came only to admire the scenery. In this delicate environment, a moment of carelessness can take centuries to repair.
Whether you're exploring the desert in a national park or in the unprotected wilderness, delicate desert environments require care. Even if there are no posted rules, to preserve the desert:
- Time your trip. Everyone wants to visit the desert during the brief burst when it's in bloom. If possible, visit before or after the rush.
- Follow the leader. Don't be a trailblazer.
- When traveling with a large group of visitors, break up into smaller groups and walk single file so you disturb less of the natural habitat.
- Don't be the first to camp in an area. Instead, set up camp on previously disturbed areas or on slickrock.
- When setting up camp, leave everything as you found it. Don't move rocks or fallen vegetation to make the site more convenient for you.
- Map your route. Plan your trek so you stay on established trails. When wilderness trekking, avoid areas that are environmentally sensitive. If you're not sure what areas are sensitive, ask the local park services before heading out.
- Be soil savvy. Learn to identify cryptobiotic soil . This crusty, dark soil is nutrient-rich and crucial for the survival of desert vegetation. Surprisingly delicate, a single footprint can upset the soil-stabilizing processes for years. If you see this soil, retrace your steps and adjust your route accordingly.
- Respect fire restrictions. Many desert regions prohibit campfires. Pack a portable stove for cooking and use the stars as your nighttime entertainment.
- Keep fires small. If campfires are permitted, keep them small and far from any vegetation. The dryness of the desert dramatically increases the dangers of starting a wildfire.
- Never gather wood. Not only is wood in the desert a rarity, but it provides habitats for a multitude of insects, spiders, and reptiles, which in turn serve as food for larger desert animals. If fires are permitted, bring your own wood.
- Don't pick the flowers. Cacti, desert roses, wild flowers, and brushes have a very shallow root system that can be easily damaged. Picking one flower can uproot an entire patch that will take years to grow back - if ever.
- Take all your trash out with you. This includes human waste.