I have been in the Southwest part of Colorado for about a week now, waiting for the haze to clear up, and the weather to change a little. While here, I wanted to see how the San Juan mountains look this year, with all the drought and COVID-19 restrictions. Although the drought has surely done its damage to the environment (and temps are still hovering around 80F every day), it seems like all air travel has switched to cars and RVs, as the whole Ridgway / Ouray / Telluride area has been overrun by tourists this year. I have never seen this many cars on the roads – it is absolutely insane!
Unfortunately, the locals don’t seem to like this sudden influx of tourists to the area, so they are taking precautionary steps to protect their lands. And I don’t necessarily blame them – photographers, hunters and fishers have already done their part in damaging sensitive areas, trespassing private lands, all for the sake of getting their next trophy, or their next Instagram-worthy shot. While for the rest of us who have been coming to these beautiful places for decades, access to a number of places will be off-limits going forward, and our pictures are going to be spoiled by ugly fencing and barbed wires.
Speaking of barbed wire, along with some of the deadly weapons out there, barbed wire is without a doubt one of the worst inventions in human history. Barbed wire is just nasty, and although its primary purpose is to keep people away from private land, so many animals get trapped and injured by it. I think the saddest thing I have ever seen in the San Juan area, was when I witnessed an elk that was shot in the stomach get stuck on the barbed wire. It could not move in any direction, bleeding to death. I wish I had a gun with me to put the poor thing out of its misery.
Hunters that come to this area are known to trespass and shoot animals in private lands – that has been happening for many years here. But now, there is a different kind of hunter that’s overwhelming the area – one that’s hungry for a picture, and one that will do anything to get it. This type does not seem to care about “keep out” and “no trespassing” signs, as the result is all that matters, especially when the competition is so fierce. These people are willing to push themselves to the limits, as long as their photo is slightly better than the other guy’s.
The locals are responding appropriately, taking rather extreme measures. Take a look at the following barbed wire along County Road 9, which is famous for its beautiful scenery and overlooks:
Yup, that’s five levels of barbed wire that is now installed for a few miles along some of the most beautiful area on this road! Someone really hated all the photography “hunters” from getting into their lands and their beautiful aspen groves, so they decided to make sure that does not happen again.
Honestly, I don’t know who to blame more for all this – us photographers, or them land owners. Those who were with me that day 6-7 years ago, as I was conducting my Colorado fall colors workshop might remember when I was threatened to be shot if I didn’t leave their land immediately. My car was parked on the side of the public road (and I was not trespassing any private land) and I stopped to take a picture with my group. The worst part of this, is that I knew it was not the actual land owner who threatened me – it was someone who was renting a wooden cabin along CR9 and felt privileged to threaten the tourist. I didn’t argue (as he was the one with the gun), and we took off, but it surely left a very negative impression that day. The locals all seem to be wonderful people, so it was surprising to see such nasty behavior in these areas.
Speaking of the locals, there are very few people from Colorado who actually own lands in these areas nowadays. I know a number of people from the Ridgway / Ouray area that grew up here – they simply don’t have the means to be able to buy up and maintain so much land. Most of the private land belongs to people from other states, and over the past few years, they have been buying up more, especially near more “exotic” locations like Telluride. Driving up on the last stretches of the Last Dollar Road, I couldn’t help but notice how much more new development is taking place there. A lot of land is being sold for a premium these days, especially with the whole COVID-19 pandemic, and wanting to live in more “remote” locations.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to blame the outsiders for all the changes that have been taking place here. It is probably not all photographers and hunters to blame for either. I think the truth is somewhere in-between…
I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. It would be good to come back to the good ol’ days. I just have a feeling it will never be the same again.
Just for clarity, barbed wire was invented to keep farm animals and cattle contained on an owner’s property. But I do agree that it can result in some nasty consequences for both people and wild animals when used indiscriminately.
Thank you for this article. That particular stretch of CR9 did not have any fencing last year. To be fair, it was never marked as private property until this year, and unless you have GAIA GPS with the private property layer, most non-locals would not know it is owned by Ralph Lauren. I tend to agree though that the purpose of that stretch of fencing, I’m pretty sure, is to keep in cattle… I could be wrong though. I have been photographing this area for many years and have seen a huge influx of visitors, thanks probably to Instagram. I have also seen many ‘famous’ photographers with large followings promote this behavior by sharing photos from these places where it is actually illegal to go there. I have also seen prominent workshop leaders take people into private land knowingly. When will it stop? This summer was just awful in the San Juans… so many people that don’t respect nature are coming in large numbers, and the impact is noticeable and quite profound. Education and permits may be the last resort, unfortunately.
Это какая-то чисто американская фигня — хвататься за ствол чуть что. Право на самозащиту — очень тонкая материя, считаю, что государство должно давать гражданину право на самозащиту, но вся эта тема с владением оружием в США — один сплошной перегиб. Вместо того, чтобы учиться уважению, налаживанию отношений (что сложно), информированию (знаете, табличка с надписью “Private property” — так себе решение), люди идут по пути наименьшего сопротивления — путём вскидывания ствола между глаз. То же относится и к колючей проволоке. Когда-то она покончила с анархо-капитализмом Дикого Запада, но мы в XXI веке живём. Пора задумываться и о последствиях. У этой нации серьёзные проблемы, берущие свои корни ещё с XIX века.
Дмитрий, согласен, проблем тут много. Нынешнее руководство разделило страну еще больше – теперь и нацисты смело по улицам шагают. Конечно проблемы есть везде, но с ношением оружия и правилами частной собственности некоторые явно перегибают…
Interesting article, I had some kind of similar experience in Europe. In the Dolomites, at known photo spots listed online, they’ve installed fences and paid access gates to prevent photographers to damage the environment and make more money out of photographers. Lately, I arrived at a location at 6 am, there were already 30 photographers crammed in the same spot to take the same photo as the ones published in flickr and 500px. It was very disappointing to discover that things turned out that way.
However, away from locations published on internet , can be some equally good areas without any photographers, without fences, total free to access, but those locations require to do our own research and planning, instead of relying to popular photo spots published in the internet. It’s more work, more scouting, and some significant trial and error.
Not sure but I think in norway every citizen has the right to nature, meaning even if you’re trespassing on private property you have the right to stay there 2 days. In contrast, here in Jordan you can’t move 5 feet without paying ridiculous amounts of money. I guess it’s a grey area like you said, on one hand it’s ridiculous that everything is monetized. On the other hand, if it was left to the public it would turn into a dump.
Sadly, not everyone behaves responsibly towards nature and unless that changes people won’t be able to enjoy the great outdoors.
Photography is by nature an invasive process. To get a shot of something real or important forces us to take risks. Trespassing is just one of them. I don’t blame a photographer trying to get a unique angle on something at the risk of upsetting those around him. Would you read an article written by a correspondent who never left the couch? Nobody would. He has to get in somebody’s face to find the truth.
Unfortunately, locals cannot tell the difference between an artist and Instagram monkey looking for 15 minutes of fame. If they could, maybe we would be treated differently. Until then. its going to be barbed wire all around.
“locals cannot tell the difference between an artist and Instagram monkey….” because there isn’t any. Trespassing is trespassing. Due respect, but it’s that type of attitude that is putting “barbed wire all around”
Exactly. This is complaining about the traffic while fialing to see that you are the traffic.
Thank you Nasim to take me back to the memory lane. I was fortunate to have attended your incredible workshop in Sept 2017. I also vividly remember the incidence you described. It was in a small horse barn at the end of the road. It is a great shame to learn how rapidly things are changing for the worse.. Thanks to photographers like you and digital technology, the future generations will have the opportunity to dream about the beauty of the land in not too distant past.
I lived in Montrose from 1970-75. As I recall, and last time I looked it up, it is up to the individual to know where they are, on private or public land. That is/was a Colorado thing, not the same here in Idaho. It is not up to the land owner to mark their land or fence it in to keep you out.
There are now ways to keep track of where you are and land ownership. See OnX Hunt and OnX Offroad. It will tell you who owns the land and may provide a contact for you to call to arrange entering their land. The main difference between OnX Hunt and OnX Offroad is that you buy OnX Hunt for the entire state and the map is loaded on your device, a phone with GPS or a suitable Garmin GPS unit.
Nasim, Hope alls well with you and family. I have been only dreaming of my trip to Ouray and the local areas for fall photography and clearly remember the incident you write about – happened right in front and we all walked away. AS a human being we may be the smartest and at the top of the food chain we unrelentingly destroy flora and fauna. It was a mad world and it is in fact very miserably maddening! Be safe.
Nasim, I was just thinking of you the other day and how much I enjoyed my two trips to Ouray CO with you. I was wondering if you were able to conduct any workshops? I hope all is well in your world and I hope our paths cross again soon.