Sunday, December 3, 2017

Rockin' It on the Trail

The scouting team headed out this week to check on a trail scheduled for an upcoming hike.  The Shannon/Arcadia Trail was recently opened after the 2017 Frye Fire. The fire drastically changed the landscape and a couple of sections of the trail have completely disappeared.  One lone cairn--a stack of rocks--helped guide us through a particularly rough spot.  So, we added a few cairns to help the next hikers through the area.

On a recent hike, we had an opportunity to educate some novice hikers about the piles of rocks cutting through a large meadow.  Being from Arizona, one individual shared that she had seen these stone piles marking energy vortexes in Sedona.   Yes, after the Harmonic Convergence in 1987 and the end of the Millennium many of the new stone stacks appeared around the world.  They are people’s way of saying “I was here” or mark a spot of spiritual significance. But historically stone stacks denote the next point along a trail so you know which direction to go. 
Real cairns appear all around the world. The word comes from Gaelic for “heap of stones.”  Many cultures used stones as before there were lighthouses to help them navigate along the shorelines.  Stone piles also mark trails in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mongolian steppe and in the Andes. Many still standing today are ancient.  Rock cairn have been used for millennia for guidance.  But in recent years, we have begun seeing cairns go from tools for guidance to art, or a fad. Yes, they make for great Facebook selfies. They are popping up everywhere!  So what's rockin' with these stacked stones?  A big debate. Here are some things we might consider before stacking rocks.

Moving rocks alters the landscape.  In the West, we know the effects water can have on barren land.  Rocks hold down soil and moving even a couple of rocks can cause erosion.  Every time a rock is disturbed, an animal loses a potential home, since many insects and mammals burrow under rocks for protection and reproduction.

Moving rocks not only is bad for the environment, but you run the risk of misdirecting hikers. 
If you make your own cairn, it can lead people in the wrong direction, and it could get people in trouble. Knock down a cairn along a trail and there can be similar results.  Properly built cairns help mark trails to help hikers and can endure for decades.  As trail markers, cairns keep hikers on a single path, so they don't wander about damaging fragile soil and vegetation.  In foggy or stormy weather or at night, they can be lifesavers, helping keep hikers safely on the trail.  Cairns have an important purpose, protecting the environment and the hiker.

But on the other side of the debate--I've seen stacked stones that are works of art.  I've marveled at the builders' abilities to balance one stone upon another. 

But when we think of the out-of doors, we need to think and act responsibly.  In both cases, context and quantity should be considered rather than the idea of our right to stack a few stones.  It's not just one or two's dozens and hundreds in some areas.  If an individual is truly moved by the environment visually, physically, or spiritually, we have a responsibility to protect the area.  We should all embrace the leave-no-trace approach in our activities.  Those who stack stones, take some photos, and then dismantle.  Hikers, place true cairns along a trail only when needed.  Cairns can be great when done right.

Let's all do our part.  Leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but pictures; kill nothing but time.