You see a beautiful flower, a cool native arrowhead, a colorful rock, or something else that you just want to take home and keep...but you know what's going to happen to it. That flower will be destroyed in your pack. That arrowhead will just end up in a junk drawer. And who knows what you'll do with the rock?
In the fall of 2006, a friend and I were on our way out to climb Jackass Flats (II, 5.6) in Red Rock Canyon . The route is located in a part of the canyon that is not visited very often. Indeed, until a few years ago a heard of wild horses roamed freely in the desert there. Wild burros still make their way across the desert in this area with very little oversight by humans.
It was on this approach that we found it...the skeleton of a wild burro. The bones were a bit scattered, but they were all there. The most spectacular part of the skeleton was the skull, bleached white by the desert sun. It was an incredible find.
My friend indicated that he thought that he could sell the skull on Ebay for a fair bit of money. I didn't feel comfortable with this. Finding that skeleton made our day. Ultimately, we decided that it was best to leave the skull for the next visitor. We decided that the experience of finding something like that was one of the values of playing in the mountains.
A Burro Skull found in the shadow of Windy Peak in Red Rock Canyon Photo by Jason Martin
Leave areas as you found them. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs or pine cones, replace these items before leaving. On high impact sites, it is appropriate to clean up the site and dismantle inappropriate user-built facilities, such as multiple fire rings and constructed seats or tables. Consider the idea that good campsites are found and not made.
In many locations, properly located and legally constructed facilities, such as a single fire ring, should be left. Dismantling them will cause additional impact because they will be rebuilt with new rocks and thus impact a new area. Learn to evaluate all situations you find.
Avoid Damaging Live Trees and Plants
Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at them with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks, thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable. The cutting of boughs for use as sleeping pads creates minimal benefit and maximum impact. Sleeping pads are available at stores catering to campers.
Picking a few flowers does not seem like it would have any great impact and, if only a few flowers were picked, it wouldn't. But, if every visitor thought "I'll just take a few", a much more significant impact might result. Take a picture or sketch the flower instead of picking it. Experienced campers may enjoy an occasional edible plant, but they are careful not to deplete the surviving vegetation or disturb plants that are rare or are slow to reproduce.
Leave Natural Objects and Cultural Artifacts
Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In National Parks and some other areas it is illegal to remove natural objects.
The same ethic is applicable to cultural artifacts found on public land. Cultural artifacts are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. It is illegal to remove or disturb archeological sites, historic sites, or artifacts such as pot shards, arrowheads, structures, and even antique bottles found on public lands.
Ironically -- as stated above -- even trash that has been left for over fifty years could be considered a cultural artifact. Imagine the remains of a mining operation that are hundreds of years old or the vestiges of an old pioneer settlement...these items develop value by staying where they are. Indeed, in some National Parks it's actually illegal to pick up items that are over fifty years old.
Leave What You Find wasn't designed for outdoor educators to wag their fingers at people with, but instead was designed to give people an opportunity to relish in an outdoor environment that hasn't been impacted by modern people. Finding beautiful plants, beautiful trees, beautiful rocks, beautiful animals, beautiful artifacts and beautiful vistas are one of the main reasons that we visit the outdoors. If everybody takes a bit of that a way, there will be nothing left to look at...