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Many years ago, I camped with my daughters in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The last morning there, I was cleaning our campsite and packing to go when my 4-year-old ran up to me. “Daddy, I found a snake.”
She showed me a boulder near our campsite. Sure enough, a little desert rattlesnake had curled up in a large hollow beneath the boulder.
We gathered around — at a distance — and watched it for a while. It was afraid of us, trying to crawl back farther under the rock, rattling its tail. It put on quite a defensive show.
I finally told her, “Don’t go near it! Stand right here where I can see you. Watch it and tell us if it comes out.” I went back to packing, keeping an eye on her while she posted a NORAD-like watch on the snake.
On the way out, we told the ranger where the rattlesnake was. He thanked us. Park people hustled right over, captured the snake and removed it to a safe wild place, away from people.
People I know would have beaten that snake to death on sight. But in that national park, even a snake is something to be admired — from a distance — and not destroyed.
We human beings need the perspective of natural things. The wonders of nature help keep us humble. We are only temporary visitors, witnesses to the divine miracle that is the world around us. Each natural thing we destroy is a gift stolen from our own grandchildren.
I grew up in the red-rock deserts of western Colorado and Utah. Desert is particularly fragile and easy to mar forever.
I couldn’t help watching the recent viral video of the two scoutmasters who destroyed the little stone “hoodoo” in Utah’s Goblin Valley. There’s no excuse for ignorance. But ignorance always has an excuse.
Their excuse was, “It could have fallen and killed a little kid.” My reply is, “Maybe it could, if the little kid’s stupid enough to mess with it the way you were.”
From watching that rock teeter sideways before falling forward, the one person in danger was the guy pushing on it.
Vandalism always has an excuse. There are hundreds of balanced boulders, cliff
overhangs, leaning canyon walls, natural bridges. Every few years, one does collapse from ongoing erosion.
But a natural formation sits there for thousands or millions of years. And takes five seconds to collapse. You do the math on how likely someone is to even be watching — let alone be underneath — when it happens.
Parks like Goblin Valley are set aside to preserve just that kind of wonder. Should every tourist pass judgment on which wonders deserve to exist and which ones don’t?
There’s real arrogance to some guy deciding on his own to take a natural formation away from the rest of us. “We just modified Goblin Valley,” one of them crowed, giggling insanely. No sense of wonder. No respect. Just heedlessness.
They’re no different from the vandal who chisels his name on a thousand-year-old Native American petroglyph.
If you really think something’s dangerous, tell a park ranger, as my daughter and I did. They set up a safety barrier. Problem solved. Wonder preserved.
Thankfully, the Boy Scouts have dismissed the vandals. The men are still not sorry they destroyed our landmark, though. They’re only sorry they got punished.
That’s ignorance for you. It always has an excuse. That’s why it never learns.
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