Love it to death

Sunday Signal

There is a spot about an hour and a half from where I live that is stunning in its natural beauty. I spend many weekends there, hiking its many trails, seeing an incredibly beautiful vista at almost every turn.

It is a rare national treasure that has, for one reason or another, been able to stay out of the limelight. Compared to over-popular sites like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, this place is downright primitive. There are no traffic jams to fight on the way there. There are no RV hookups, no real campgrounds, just a pull-off every now and then. The parking spots are few, far be- tween, and usually empty. There are no toilets, no visitors’ center.

While hiking, I am usually with one or two friends. We regularly see wild animals, usually of the non-danger- ous nature, but we also see snakes and evidence of bears and big cats. We rarely see another human. Sometimes we’ll pass a tent or two. This spot attracts birdwatchers, rock climbers and experienced hikers.

I will never, ever tell you where this place is, or give you its name, because then you would come. And you would love it to death.

Not you personally, but people would come, and pretty soon it would be as crowded and unpleasant as every other “wilderness” spot in the country. It wouldn’t be enough just to see this place; new visitors would want to build second homes there that look like log cabins. But giant log cabins, ones so big that they’d require cooks, housecleaners and handymen to keep the place up. And then these newcomers would let their grandchildren come, and buy them noisy ATVs and dirt bikes so their little feet would never have to touch the ground, and then they would complain that the closest big box store is two hours away and why doesn’t someone build one nearby?

Say, right in the middle of the beautiful valley, where it would be much more convenient for everyone. I’ve lived in some beautiful places in my life and I’ve seen them all loved to death. You could probably name several similar places yourself, even if it’s only that trashy, empty lot down the street where you used to play pick-up ball before it was turned into an ugly apartment building with parking out front.

A recent news story illustrates the point perfectly. After a yearlong drought, California finally got a decent amount of rain this spring. The desert responded, like everyone else, with joy. Giant fields of long-dormant wild poppies bloomed in the desert, causing traffic jams of people who came to see the increasingly rare event. So far, so good.

Then some real nature lovers showed up in a helicopter, landing
it in the midst of the poppies. As if destroying most of the poppies with the prop wash from the copter wasn’t bad enough, the passengers hopped out and started trampling the few flowers the helicopter hadn’t already destroyed. What a beautiful, natural experience that must’ve been.

Learn from this: If you find a special place, keep it to yourself. Don’t tell a soul. Better yet, invent reasons why people should NOT visit. Instead of waxing lyrical about your special place, you should be telling tales that would make people go miles out of their way to avoid it.

When I hear that someone wants to visit my secret place, I try to look as sad as possible and say things like, “If only they hadn’t turned it into an open-air nuclear waste dump. I guess the government thought the giant burning tire fire would cover up what they’re doing over there, but you can see the smoke for miles. You get one sniff of it and all your food tastes like burning rubber for a week. And, of course, it was a shame about what happened to those people caught in the quicksand last week. You do have bear repellent, don’t you?”

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@

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