By Leandra Rhodes June 19, 2019
In May 2018, a friend and I rented a psychedelic camper van to drive around Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, and Nevada. The plan was to hit as many National Parks as we could, hiking and biking our way across southwestern USA. The bikes (AKA our babies) slept safely inside the van while we camped out in a tent attached to the roof. At least 90% of the trip was spent in the desert, and we had a nightly ritual of cleaning sand out of our sleeping bags.
I’ve been fortunate enough to take many road trips through the USA, and the landscape never ceases to amaze me. The National Parks are some of the most splendid sights on the continent, and the park staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the areas. The scenery is stunning, and I highly recommend that everyone attempt to see as many National Parks in their lives as possible.
Top right: The Narrows in Zion National Park
Top left: Horseshoe Bend (top) and Lake Powell (bottom),
both outside of Page, AZ
Bottom: Yosemite National Park
Southwestern USA is quite arid, with many areas where access to water is scarce. In Joshua Tree National Park, for example, you’ll find no water of any kind. You have to bring in all of your own drinking water, and no showers or flush toilets exist within the park boundaries.
Joshua Tree National Park
In the Grand Canyon, another arid region, taps are common and easy to find; however, signs are posted everywhere asking visitors to be conscious of their water use. The animals in the park are one reason for this: there are a lot and they generally don’t mind being very close to humans. What animal would when we are so good at providing them with opportunities for food?
Regardless of countless warnings, visitors still frequently wash their dishes at the drinking water taps, spilling food scraps on the ground just feet from the designated sinks for this very purpose. On one of our days camping inside the park, I went to fill up my water bottle from the tap only to be blocked by four mule deer who were happily licking at the ground below. They showed absolutely no fear, and nothing I did would move them.
The babies in Grand Canyon National Park
This isn’t the only water-related mistake visitors make while inside the park, and while some mistakes are user error, others occur because of misinformation; misinformation such as signs posted within Grand Canyon National Park encouraging campers to reduce their water consumption by using disposable dishes and utensils…
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do understand the point. Water in the park itself is scarce, and the park authorities are trying to minimize water use in that immediate area. Disposable dishes and utensils are a quick and easy way to do this by reducing how much water is used in the park for cleaning. Makes sense. However, signs like this are misleading as they are not telling the whole story, and people reading these signs may pick up and spread bad habits.
Here’s the problem: while using disposable dishes and utensils are helping to reduce water use in specific areas, making these disposable items is far from water friendly. The fabrication process of these items uses far more water than repeated washing of reusable items does, and that’s not even including the water that is used in recycling disposable items!
Again, I get it. regardless of overall water consumption, the point is that it’s not happening in the Grand Canyon itself. But please, people! At least provide all of the necessary information so that people can make informed choices even when they leave the park, rather than allowing visitors to believe that using disposable dishes all the time is their contribution to reducing global water consumption.