Sunday, September 13, 2020


That oh-so-beautiful Grand Canyon sunset

Scene: The Grand Canyon at sundown.  I'm painting alone, perched on the edge of the Canyon, at a spot where I won't be bothered by tourists.  Sunset here is fleeting, and the soul-stirring palette of colors—all the way from blood-red to cool magenta to deep ultramarine—dissolves quickly as the sun dips below the horizon.  I work fast to capture the moment.  

Then, it's gone.  I step away from my work to enjoy the unbroken arc of sky above, deepening toward the violet, and the nearly-featureless blue of the chasm below.  Suddenly, off in the distance, somewhere near Mather Point, fireworks ensue.  No, not fireworks—it's the thousand tiny pinpricks of flash from cameras and smartphones.

Hundreds of those sunset images will appear within seconds on Instagram and Facebook.  Soon, the whole world will know how beautiful a sunset can be at Grand Canyon National Park.  Parents will mull over their calendars, wondering when they might schedule a trip there with their family.  Twenty-somethings will ask their latest romantic partners when their next vacation is, so they can go camping.  Retirees will call up the bus tour company and see if a Grand Canyon excursion is in the works.

I ask myself, how will this affect the protected lands, the special places?  Parks like Grand Canyon were created with the vision that they should be enjoyed by all.  But “all” has come to encompass a larger and larger number over recent years.  I myself have seen the line at Zion National Park, where people queue up in their cars and RVs for any open spot in the campground at 5:30 in the morning.  And that was during the off-season.

The Parks don't need an advertising budget.  They get more advertising than they need through social media.

As a landscape painter, I consider myself a “steward of the land.”  That is, one of my goals is to depict the beauty of our public lands so that others will recognize the treasures that we have and, hopefully, work to preserve them.  A natural result of my efforts, of course, is that more and more people, encouraged by what they see, will visit.  Can our lands survive being over-loved?

It's a quandary.  How do we share the beauty and, at the same time, save it?  I know our parks are struggling with this very question.

In the recent issue of Outside, writer Lisa Chase discusses the issue with oversharing our beautiful places.  Instagram and other social media have had quite an impact.  She writes:

Without a doubt, social media and smartphones, with their connectivity and excellent cameras, have caused a massive surge in the number of people visiting national parks and other spectacular wildernesses. “Our visitation has increased pretty dramatically over the past five years,” said Vanessa Ceja Cervantes, a Grand Canyon park spokeswoman, when we spoke last fall. (Cervantes has since left the park service.) Tourist numbers there have risen from a steady four or five million annually, through 2014, to 5.5 million in 2015 and 6.4 million in 2018. Cervantes said it’s no coincidence that the uptick was concurrent with the explosion of Instagram. The platform was created in 2010; by 2015, it had 400 million active users. As of 2018, that number was one billion. Visitor totals in the park system as a whole spiked between 2015 and 2016 by 23.7 million.

I encourage you to read the full article here:


BV in BV said...

It is quite the predicament. I know I benefit deeply from being outside and am glad - and maybe buoyed a bit - that others are also benefitting from the magic of being outdoors. Perhaps the enthusiasm will help to protect other outdoor spaces - ones that aren't as spectacular as the Grand Canyon but every bit as valuable to the sanity of those living in urban and suburban spaces. I hope that is true.

The other side of "my" coin here is that I can rarely escape humanity any more. I value the serenity of being alone in nature. No human voices. No candy wrappers. No piles of dog poo. (Here is a whole other topic that needs to be addressed!) Being alone in nature. Feeling the magnificent energy of it. Experiencing the quiet, only interrupted by the call of a hawk or the whisper of the wind in the trees. Being a landscape painter as well, I also feel the duty to preserve what is wild or quiet in the hopes that it stays that way.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Good thoughts, and thank you, BV.