Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints (Help Preserve the Beauty That Is Sedona)

January 25, 2019

By Dr. Curt Kommer

Sedona Westerners hiker Jeff Fargo picks up a discarded plastic bottle found along the trail. Sedona Westerners practice a “Leave No Trace” policy while hiking on Sedona’s trails. Photo Courtesy of Gus Rousonelos

For those of us who live in Sedona, not a day goes by without feeling the impact of the 3 million visitors that are drawn here every year.  This impact is easiest to see on local roads, but at least a million of those visitors (and most of us locals) also use the Red Rock Trail system, and this level of usage has had just as profound an impact our local trails.  It may be less obvious than traffic gridlock, but trail-related problems can directly affect the health of the desert landscape, the Oak Creek watershed, and the many historical sites that make our area so special.  Sedona is surrounded by one of the most beautiful and interesting landscapes in the entire world, but it is also a landscape that is fragile and unforgiving .... our trespasses leave scars and the mistakes we make are slow to heal.

For over 50 years, the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club has tried to address these concerns straight on.  After all, we use these local trails four days a week and have always felt a unique responsibility to minimize our impact and practice "Leave No Trace" hiking.  We've worked closely with the local Forest Service and have learned a lot along the way, so let us share with you some of the principles we follow to minimize our impact:


1.  Stay on established tracks and trails, and avoid stepping or sitting on sensitive plants

     and soils.  Hike on the red rock sandstone when possible.  The pristine desert shows

     every step you take, and any careless steps you take may never fade.

2.  Pack out what you pack in.  Any litter, whether it is tissue paper, plastic, orange peels,

     or cigarette butts, degrades incredibly slowly (if at all) in the desert.  Not only is this

     trash hard to look at, but it can find its way into our animals and waterways.  It's easy

     to take it with you, so please do.

3.  The local red rock sandstone has taken millions of years to evolve into the

     extraordinary forms we see today.  Scratched initials, spray-painted graffiti, or

     chiseled messages can permanently deface this natural beauty.  Don't do it.  The

     ancient Greeks used to ostracize citizens who did stupid and disrespectful things like

     this .... nowadays we will at least prosecute and fine you.

4.  When visiting sensitive sites such as Native-American ruins, please treat them with   respect.  Some of them are over a thousand years old and very fragile, so don't sit or climb on walls, move stones, or disturb the soil; and it's best to leave your packs and hiking poles outside a site to avoid accidentally scraping or bumping things.   As a gesture of respect, and to keep the sites pristine, avoid eating in or around these sites.  If there is rock art on the walls please look but don't touch, as skin oils degrade and discolor the images.

These are the big things that we try to do as an organization every day, but there are so many little things that individual Sedona Westerners members do on their own, and you can too, that can be just as important.  Our members: pick up litter wherever they see it; they help identify and remove graffiti; they help with trail maintenance; they serve as docents and stewards for local historical sites; and, finally, they greet everyone on the trails with friendliness and respect.  All of us, in the spirit of the New Year, can help just a little, to preserve and protect our extraordinary trails and wilderness.  That may be the best gift we could give to our children, neighbors, or fellow visitors.  Happy New Year from the Sedona Westerners.

If you are interested in joining the hiking club, please visit the Sedona Westerners’ website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership.  You are invited to our next monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, February 14, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road.  Written by Dr. Curt Kommer.

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