A Photographer’s Guide to Mindful Travel
A few simple steps to care for Utah's unique environment
With blazing red rocks in almost unfathomable formations, brilliant blue skies and breathtaking lighting, the Utah desert is a photographer’s dream. It’s also a very fragile place. Photographers can take a few simple steps to care for this unique environment while getting great shots. Read on for tips on mindful photography in a very special place.
Leave no trace
It seems obvious not to leave candy wrappers and trash behind, but visitors should also be sure to pack out anything they might be tempted to leave behind, including things like apple cores and toilet paper. In some areas, including around Moab, it’s also required to pack out solid human waste with special bags or portable toilets (watch this video for tips). (Read: "How to Poop in the Outdoors")
The old saying “take only pictures, leave only footprints” isn’t quite enough for the fragile desert environment. “Take only pictures, but don’t leave any footprints,” might be a better mantra. The red rock desert is home to a rich biological soil crust — also known as “cryptobiotic crust,” — which is actually living soil. It includes mosses, lichen, green algae, microfungi and cyanobacteria. The crust controls erosion and helps the desert retain water, allowing plants and other creatures to flourish. Once this fragile soil is compacted — such as by a footprint or vehicle track — it can take hundreds of years for the crust to fully recover. (Read: "A Soil Sleuth Protecting Utah’s Living Landscapes")
In order to prevent causing this damage, stay on existing trails or, when trails are unavailable, durable slickrock. Know what biological soil crust looks like so you can avoid it.
Photographer Jon Fuller has lived in Moab since 1992 and offers private photography tours and workshops through his company, Moab Photo Tours. He advises people to be mindful of the long-term impact even one quick trip off trail can cause.
“If you go off to take a photograph off the trail, you’ve started a new trail, which another person coming after you might say ‘wonder where this trail goes?’ and pretty soon it’s become a social trail that shouldn’t be there,” Fuller says. “Stay on the trails and don’t leave any evidence that you’ve been there.”