This past week, we traveled up to Big Sur to hike Boronda Ridge – a relatively lesser known five-mile hike – and camp at the worn out USFS campsite atop the ridge. We had been planning this trip for a little over a year and finally were able to make it happen.
After a four-hour drive up the coast, and an hour of searching for the unmarked trailhead, we finally found it, and, along with it, a disheartening notice:
“Pursuant to [codes] and to provide public safety, the following are prohibited in the Monterrey Ranger District within the Los Padres National Forest. This order is effective beginning September 2, 2016, until Soberanes and Chimney Fires are declared out.”
Nowhere in our research of planning this trip had we come across notices of a fire in the area, but here we were, standing in front of a taped off trailhead with our hiking boots tied tight, gear fully packed, and packs – with our tent, sleeping bag and peanut butter and honey sandwiches – strapped to our backs, and now also distress on our faces.
Because of an illegal campfire started in August, 132,127 acres of breathtaking California coastal forest, 57 homes, and 11 outbuildings were completely destroyed.
Along with this, not only was our trail closed, but so were all other trails in Ventana Wilderness and the Los Padres NF, along with every park, forest, campground and day use area in the greater Monterrey area. It had been over three months since this fire was started, and even though it has been 100 percent contained since early October, everything remains closed.
To imagine that this kind of destruction can come from one person’s ill-informed mistake is so disheartening and enraging.
Are we loving our Earth to death?
Has our need to share our experiences left this beautiful planet at risk?
Is this trend of social media Geotagging leaving everyone uninformed about the fragility around them?
There is a Geotag for everything now. The issue is that Geotags leave no information to any onlooker about this place besides where it is located. People see a picture on Instagram with a location tag, click it and decide to go there knowing nothing about it: no research is put into their trip, no knowledge is known about what this landscape can or cannot handle.
That’s when destruction happens.
Millions of acres of wilderness are destroyed every year for farmlands, animal farms and factories.
Places are now littered with trash, not respected and being destroyed with fires because of misinformation, recklessness, and, simply, no compassion.
Is it all really worth it?
That’s something I ask myself every day. I might never have the right answer, but what I can say is that no photograph, illegal fire or location tag is worth it if the cost is the destruction of nature.
It is heartbreaking to think that a whole stretch of pristine coastline in this gorgeous state I call home is now reduced to drive-by's and tourist photographs instead of the firsthand experience of nature. A whole city’s wilderness destroyed at the cost of one illegal campfire.
So, please, before visiting an area you find through social media, a photograph, or a location tag, do your research. Find out everything you can about this place you think is beautiful, and do everything you can to leave better than it was before you got there.
We can do better.