Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tourists vs. Nature: The Eternal Summer Debate

Posted by Angie Luvara, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING -- Every summer, thousands of people from all over the United States and the world flock to one of nature’s most beautiful sights—Yellowstone National Park. Backpackers, bicyclists, and hippies mix with families in minivans and rented RVs at the parks many sights. From waterfalls, to geysers, to lush fields, to snow-capped mountains, Yellowstone offers some of the most diverse scenes in nature that I’ve ever seen in one place. Yet in between moments of pure awe at nature’s amazing beauty, I did notice something else—the clash between visitors and the wild.
Yes, Yellowstone is a National Park. Yes, it costs $25 just to drive into the park. Yes, there are at least four visitor centers, complete with large restroom areas, throughout the park. Most surprisingly, since we hadn’t had cell phone service for hours, yes, there is 3G wireless service available near the parks most famous attraction—Old Faithful.
Yet, despite all these conveniences (or, not-so-conveniences, like the entrance fee), visitors are still very much in the wild. On several occasions, we approached a sight that we planned on stopping to see (with a convenient parking lot close by), only to find signs that read “Stay In Cars. Keep Moving Next ½ Mile. Bear Activity.”  Now, when we saw a sign like that, we followed instructions! However, not all visitors exhibited the same level of obedience. Despite signs that warned visitors that buffalo can run over three times faster than humans, we witnessed tourists approaching sleeping buffalo—from just several feet away! In areas labeled a “thermal zone”, described by warning signs as a place where, if stepped on, the earth could open up and a new geyser could form, we were surrounded by people allowing toddlers to toddle along the lifted wooden walkway—with no railing—with no concern at all that they may fall over the edge into a pool of boiling water. Upon a hike down a trail that was only 3/8 of a mile long, but dropped 600 feet in that short distance, I saw parents allowing children to race down and up the narrow trail that offered no protection between the trail and the steep, rocky drop to the bottom of the canyon.
I developed a strong sense of nature’s power growing up in the middle of the West Virginia wilderness, so it’s natural that I would feel nervous around some of the park’s visitors. No matter how many cell phone towers are built, no matter how many convenient restrooms, parking lots, and signs directing you to attractions you pass, you are still very much in the wild when visiting places like Yellowstone. And, while many of the tourists made me nervous with their antics, a little piece of me was happy to know that nature still has the final say, and humans—no matter how hard we try—can’t control everything.
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a new Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at

1 comment:

  1. Brings back memories of a trip I took many years ago.