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Canyon Karmacanyon karma

Some people don't even notice.

The little things. A water bottle lid. A cigarette butt. The tear-top of a goo packet. Little things that lay on the trail, unnoticed and unseen. Except I see them. The animals see them, and they eat them, too. Some of our condors have been taken in to rehab with a crop full of "micro trash". Our deer have been shot. Our bighorns have been euthanized. Their stomachs full of micro trash.

Runners and racers are the worst. Every rim-to-rim hike I pick up countless empty water bottles and goo packets. Some are hidden, but most are abandoned in the middle of the trail by someone who can't spare a few seconds to stop and put the trash in the pack. Assuming they are carrying a pack. There is no place to put trash in those skimpy little running shorts.

One of the SAR rangers put it best: "the runners prance along throwing little pieces of crap over their shoulder". Don't bother writing me letters: prove me wrong by picking up after yourself and your friends.

Big things, too. The unopened MRE's left by the trail. The full or almost full bottles of stove fuel. "Someone else can use this", they tell themselves, and abandon it. Except if they don't want to carry it out, chances are no one else does.

So I do. Grumbling and griping, muttering ancient curses under my breath, and sometimes above it, I carry it out. The leftover food, the water bottles, the Kleenex and the cigarette butts (treat the latter as toxic waste, which they are, with plastic gloves and ziplocks). Old socks and underwear (and what is the story behind that?).

But the Canyon knows. The Canyon punishes and the Canyon metes reward. It is called Canyon Karma. Treat the Canyon right, and the Canyon will do right by you.

I always have beautiful weather. I usually get my favorite campsite. I find fossils no one else knows about, and I see flowers and animals that other people miss. Coincidence? Experience? Or Canyon Karma? You decide. You, of course, carry out all your own trash, because you are a righteous, worthy person. Try carrying out other trash that you see, and you'll find out. Canyon Karma. It's for real.


Hikers are free-spirited, soaring souls who dislike the trappings and constrictions of civilization. However one needs must confine the wanderings of one's soles to the trail.

Stay on designated trails in single file: do not cut switchbacks Those of you who have lived in Arizona long enough to remember when they closed Squaw Peak know the ultimate result of cutting switchbacks -- a loss of a favorite hiking site. Now that trail is enclosed in concrete for much of its length because hikers still don't get the message.

If you cannot tell the difference between the trail and a switchback cut (and some places are so trashed that I will admit it gets hard), if you have to climb over a rock wall, a pile of rocks or brush, or a sign that says, "area closed", you are probably cutting a switchback. Since I spend several hours a week of my leisure time building these rock walls and piles of brush, I take umbrage when people clamber through them. If I happen to be on the site, I have been known to hit people with my shovel.

Pack it in, pack it out.

Basically, if you can carry it in full, you can carry it out empty. If you don't want to carry it out, don't bring it in the first place.

As regards biodegradable trash, such as orange peels, apple cores, etc. -- why should we all have to watch the stuff rot? You would not allow persons to dispose of such things in your backyard even if they do biodegrade. Incidentally, orange peels don't.

There are those who will claim that apple cores will take root and grow. Sure. You can see all the apple trees in the wilderness right next to the cigarette butt trees.

As for animals eating same, we do not wish to encourage such delinquent behavior in the wildlife. Anyone who has hiked Grand Canyon has stories to tell of attack by terrorist squirrels who have lost all fear of humans. These same animals will also eat plastic, because of the food smell, and cigarette butts, because it appears to be bone (which they can eat), and it kills them.

Deposit solid human waste in catholes: pack out TP

In areas where there is an outhouse provided, rise above your fastidiousness and use it. It is not there to protect your privacy: it is there to protect the fragile soils.

In areas with no outhouse:

Number one -- pee in sand or dry soil and scatter with your boot or dilute with your canteen water (DILUTION IS THE SOLUTION!). If you are by the Colorado River, pee in the wet sand or in the water. Urine on or in plants will injure them, and animals have been known to girdle a tree by gnawing at the salt left on the bark in urine (this is a guy thing -- not a girl thing).

Number two -- dig a hole in organic soil. In forested areas, the hole should be four to six inches deep to access the bacterial level. In the desert the hole should be about two inches deep on a sunny slope. Our bacteria don't work as fast, so we let the stuff dry. If you have ever heard of "smearing", which involves -- well -- smearing the stuff on rocks to let it dry (oh, gross!) that doesn't work if you have a big group of people or you are too near traveled areas. It is also very hard to do correctly.

Number three: toilet paper. Doesn't biodegrade. That's why when the neighborhood kids who TP your house want to be really nasty they spray it with the hose. Carry it out. It's not heavy. Seal it in a ziplock bag with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol or peroxide for the smell. Or use baby wipes: they don't smell bad at all. Don't burn it. First off, wet TP doesn't burn that well. Second off, I have personally been caught in one fire started by someone burning TP and once is too much.

Leave what you find:

You know the drill: leave only footprints, take only pictures. We all have a little book shelf full of goodies like rocks and shells and feathers and such like, and yes, we have all been guilty of same. Ask yourself: how many of those goodies have we actually gloated over in the past year? How many times have you cast a jaundiced eye over your treasures and wondered how in the world to get rid of them without assigning them to the trash?

Ask yourself: if you pick up that fossil, you probably won't be caught. But will the world be a better place if you leave it there rather than add it to your dusty trove?

Preserve the past.

At one time there was an old picnic table at Dripping Springs in the Grand Canyon. Haven't seen it? It was burned in the early 70's by someone who simply had to have a fire -- and they were outlawed by that time.

Do not tear off pieces of historic objects to take home and add to your dusty collection: the rest of us would like to see it as well. Do not enter Native American ruins.

As for graffiti: ancient petroglyphs were applied for religious purposes. Modern writings are applied because some snot nose wants everyone to marvel at the fact that he/she walked fifty feet from the car without collapsing.

You can and should pick up other person's trash, but when does old trash become a collectable? When in doubt: anything over 50 years old is considered an artifact and should be left in place. In a National Park, EVERYTHING should be left in place. Think of it as an outdoor museum. Yes, there is the thought that if you don't take it, the next person will. However the responsible citizen does not, upon seeing a car with the keys left inside think: well, if I don't steal it, someone else will.

Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects where found

Again, no souvenir collecting in the National Park. One is actually required to have a collector's permit to pick up rocks on other public lands. Same rules apply: the rest of us would like to see them as well.

Desert plants are usually annuals. This is how they survive our punishing summers. If you pick an annual before it goes to seed, it won't. This means every flower you pick in the spring means a couple dozen less next spring. Collection of living desert plants is, of course, prohibited by law. In many areas collecting seeds is also prohibited.

Respect wildlife

Observe wildlife from a distance: do not follow or approach

With luck, you will see wildlife. Big Horn Sheep, deer, squirrels, ring tail cats. Keep the wild in wildlife -- leave them alone. If an animal is easy to approach, it might be sick. We have rabies, bubonic plague, and hanta virus. If you are bit, you will have to undergo the rabies series.

Never feed wild animals.

Yes, they beg. Sometimes they demand. If they are never fed, they will cease this uncivilized behavior.

Feeding animals is a bad idea for several reasons:

Our food is not their food. Not only is a steady diet of corn chips, popcorn, and white bread bad for animals, it can actually change the enzymes in their stomachs and make it impossible for them to digest their own food.

Our food is our food. When animals become accustomed to getting food from humans, it is hard to get them to back off. More hikes have been ruined by animals getting into the food than by bad weather.

Tourist season doesn't last forever. When the summer visitors take off, the animals lose 80% of their handouts.

A fed animal is a dead animal. Deer have been shot at Grand Canyon because their stomachs were full of plastic bags. Bears have been shot in public lands because they become too aggressive after being fed. Squirrels who beg on the trails are relocated, and the survival rate of these enforced pilgrims is very low.

Store food and trash securely

Just because you don't actively feed the animals doesn't mean they can't find it on their own. Keep them honest.

Be considerate of other visitors

Yield to other users on the trail

In Grand Canyon the uphill hiker has the right of way. Speaking from experience, once stopped it is difficult to keep up that old uphill momentum. When you overtake a slower hiker, it is your responsibility to let them know you are behind them and that you wish to pass. I have seen hikers knock over small children while running on crowded trails. If you need to move that fast, pick a less traveled trail.

Step to side of trail when encountering pack stock

In the Canyon, follow the instructions of the wrangler. Usually if you are off the trail and standing quietly, you are all right. Watch for the mule riders, though. They like to wave their whips around to show how macho they are, and they have just missed getting me in the face more than once.

It should go without saying that you do not start rolling rocks when you get bored, but it doesn't seem to. if you see anyone doing this, you have my permission to give them a surreptitious shove. Let's see how many times they can bounce! This goes for making paper airplanes out of your Grand Canyon Guide and sending them wafting off the cliff. And just because people feel obligated to throw coins into fountains, it doesn't mean you get to throw them into the Grand Canyon.

Ipod speakers belong in the lower depths of hell: not on a trail. If you must have music, use earphones.