Poppy fields blossomed all over Lake Elsinore’s mountains. Radiant hues riveted all eyes laid on them. News of the decade’s most iconic super bloom spread like wildfire, offering a perfect opportunity for Instagrammers to snap a selfie while lying in a field of poppies.
But as poppies made Dorothy fall asleep traveling to Oz, so they seem to have impacted media influencers in their journey to be seen. The explosion of color forced the town of Lake Elsinore to accommodate 100,000 additional visitors over the weekend. While observing the luminescent fields of gold seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with it came once-in-a-lifetime traffic descending on the little town.
Walker Canyon, the home of the poppy explosion, temporarily closed down due to the devastating impacts of localized traffic. City officials called the super bloom effect a “safety emergency,” temporarily blocking visitors from entering in an attempt to prevent I-15 gridlocks. According to thedesertsun.com, “City employees worked seven days straight, 12 hours a day, trying to handle the influx of visitors.” The strain on Lake Elsinore’s economy was immense.
In response to the activity, Instagrammers started using #horribleperson to describe poppy-enthusiasts who captured images of themselves laying in the fields or even picking flowers during the super bloom. While seeking the perfect image, little thought was paid to poppy picking effects. A single plant may seem like a small price to pay for a photo, but when 100,000 flowers lay prey to the hands of bystanders, the damage is catastrophic. Ambitious poppy-seekers even went so far as to slide down undeveloped mountain faces pursuing snapshots, dragging photo-friendly high heels through the fields.
The Instagram effect doesn’t end in California. Driving through Nevada’s Mojave Desert, winding through Utah’s roads, one quickly finds oneself in a heaven named Zion National Park, which protects a six-mile canyon that receives upwards of 4,500,000 visitors per season: It’s a bucket-list item to tick for most travelers.
While poppies aren’t covering the sandstone cliffs, some of the most iconic sights in the country are nestled in Zion Canyon. Growing interest in U.S. public lands can severely damage ecosystem gems like cryptobiotic soil—a desert crust that helps with sand erosion. Crypto is the crunchy substance found off of the beaten path and takes years develop, yet can be damaged with a single footstep.
Irresponsible choices wreak havoc on the local ecosystems and park infrastructures. Where does it end? The reality is that Insta-fame is devastating our public lands. What can be done?
Please stop geo-tagging your photos. Let us become adventurers again by leaving exploration more ambiguous. We don’t need to know where you are to be inspired by the landscape. Educate yourself. Learn about the Leave No Trace principles, then apply them to your social media account. Geo-tagging inspires large audiences to travel to specific places rather than spreading out the foot traffic. Keep the mystery alive by leaving the location hashtag out. Take an active stance and use media to discuss irresponsible travel. The discussion just might save our public lands.