Too many tourists follow a leader

By Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff

A spectacular picture recently appeared on social media of a young lady in Arizona. She was poised on the edge of a cliff emblazoned with sunset colors. Immediately her online followers clamored to know where the picture was taken, so “I can get one just like it.” 

Turns out that it was taken on an off-trail route at the end of a potholed dirt road on the Navajo Nation, and required a permit to even enter the area. Also, I bet she did not climb to that precarious perch on that cliff wearing those fancy shoes.

A local guide lamented that the area would now be getting a slew of “Instagram” tourists. These people would be seeking to replicate the pose with themselves perched on the very same edge, probably wearing those same shoes.

This kind of thing has led to some decrying the unsavory habits of Instagram influencers. These are the folks who trample fields of wildflowers in order to get a shot of themselves displaying a sponsored product. Or who photograph their colorful paintings on wilderness rock faces. 

Instagram photos taken on private land have had owners locking their gates because of the hordes of people wandering through looking for the exact location of that idealized post. A perfect shot, however, does not show the queue of people waiting impatiently for their turn at glory.

Even blatant scofflaws get into the act. Some men filmed themselves swimming illegally with endangered pupfish in Nevada —and then they posted the video. Do they truly believe that only iconoclastic souls who disagree with “petty” federal regulations will view said video? Or that park rangers and police don’t own smartphones? Whatever they were thinking, it did make law enforcement easier.

What has happened to old-fashioned spontaneity? Imitation is a form of flattery, but is the only picture worth having one that’s copied from someone else’s? There’s even a website which apparently allows one to paste family pictures into vacation spots without bothering to visit them. A great time saver.

One day while riding my bike, I passed a couple setting up for their flawless picture. When I came back an hour later, they were still working on getting the hair, clothing and attitude just right. The scenery was an afterthought.

People are also falling into copycat mode because apparently just standing on a rim isn’t sexy enough . One has to jump or pretend to fall, which unfortunately may segue into the real thing. Search and Rescue groups decry the glut of visitors who just want the “perfect” picture. There is even a word for them: Killfies.

I’m reminded of the old “mom” adage where wayward children are asked: “if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”

Then I discovered an entire genre of Instagram posts dedicated to ladies who hike and climb in high heels. I assumed that they hiked in real shoes and then changed for the shot, but no, some of them climb mountains in heels. What could possibly go wrong?  

Back in the day, we visited the backcountry to get away from other people. Now we invite them digitally to follow and give us “likes.” If a person climbs a mountain and does not post it online, did the hike really happen?

Sometimes an experience doesn’t even need to exist in reality. One summer I worked as an “educational liaison” at a local business that featured a diorama of the Grand Canyon in their courtyard. Busloads of tourists would line up to get their picture in front of… that picture of the canyon. I wanted to yell, “The real thing is only seven miles away!”

My son has encouraged me to become an influencer. He tells me there are not a lot of women my age who do the things I do. I guess that is a compliment. But if I did, my influence would be unfiltered. No makeup, just hiking boots, clothes made for roughing it and hair wild as an old West hooraw.

Perhaps I could start a trend: Down-and-dirty influencing. Sweaty, beyond tired, what it really looks like to have hiked up to that cliff.

Think it would catch on?

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She is an outdoor educator in Arizona.

Paragraph 6 has been changed: the young men did not post a YouTube video of themselves.

spencer backman, via unsplash

This column was published in the following newspapers:

07/18/2023 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
07/17/2023 Steamboat Pilot Steamboat Springs CO
07/18/2023 Bozeman daily chronicle Bozeman MT
07/17/2023 Fort Morgan Times Fort Morgan CO
07/17/2023 Vail Daily Vail CO
07/17/2023 Tucson Star Tucson AZ
07/19/2023 Park Record Park City UT
07/19/2023 Jackson Hole News & Guide Jackson Hole WY
07/18/2023 Whitehall Ledger Whitehall MT
07/20/2023 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
07/19/2023 Wallowa County Chieftain Enterprise OR
07/21/2023 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
07/21/2023 St. George Spectrum St. George UT
07/21/2023 Idaho Mountain Express Ketchum ID
07/21/2023 Laramie Boomerang Laramie WY
07/20/2023 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID
07/22/2023 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
07/21/2023 Craig Daily Press Craig co
07/22/2023 Carlsbad Current-Argus Carsbad NM
07/22/2023 Las Vegas Sun Las Vegas NV
07/19/2023 Moab Times Independent Moab UT
07/19/2023 Hungry Horse News Columbia Falls MT
07/18/2023 Taos News Taos NM
07/18/2023 Denver Post Denver CO
07/19/2023 Wenatchee World Wenatchee WA
07/19/2023 Greeley Tribune Greeley CO
07/19/2023 Kingman Daily Miner Kingman AZ
07/20/2023 Clearwater Progress Kamiah ID
07/21/2023 Sierra Nevada Ally Carson City NV
07/21/2023 Lift FM/Always Mountain Time Kremmling CO
07/22/2023 The Daily Yonder Whitesburg Ky
07/23/2023 Idaho County Free Press Grangeville ID
07/20/2023 Adventure Journal CA
07/24/2023 Sky-Hi News Granby CO
07/26/2023 Daily Interlake Kalispell MT
07/26/2023 Three Forks Voice Three Forks MT
07/25/2023 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
07/19/2023 Durango Telegraph Durango CO
07/17/2023 Judith Basin Press Judith Basin County MT
07/22/2023 Alamogordo Daily News Alamogordo NM
07/22/2023 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
08/01/2023 Del Norte Triplicate Crescent City CA
08/01/2023 Bandon Western World Bandon OR
07/23/2023 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
07/18/2023 Aspen Times Aspen CO
07/23/2023 Clearwater Progress Kamiah ID
09/16/2023 KVNF Radio Paonia CO
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The Words Right out of my Thoughts — Another Excellent post from Writers on the Range – “Summer is the season of inferior sledding” – Inuit proverb
9 months ago

[…] Too many tourists follow a leader […]

Martha Kennedy
9 months ago

“If a person climbs a mountain and does not post it online, did the hike really happen?” I don’t know how many times I’ve thought just that. Great article. I’m guilty of taking photos to share on my blog, but they never have me in them. Most women my age aren’t doing what I’m doing, either. I’m not doing it well, but…

My grandad (born 1870) said, “Fools names and fools faces are always found in public places.”

melissa kelly
9 months ago

What a great article, right on. In fact, after I read it, I deleted my Instagram account, which isn’t saying a whole lot, I guess, because I’ve never posted pics of myself or anything, really. But at least I won’t be tempted to see what people are doing atop a mountain anymore. Thanks for inspiring.

Jim Rumbold
8 months ago
Reply to  melissa kelly

!Great social stance on the hearts, minds and misplaced priorities in our country! Methinks our adult egos (ids) have been impaired by the thirst for the approval and validation by others, just as a child needs consistent positive reinforcement.

Au Naturel
9 months ago

I think down and dirty influencers would be marvelous.

8 months ago

Love this! And I love that you are using Writers on the Range to be a positive influence on us all.

8 months ago

Bored. This article is more about the writer’s moral superiority than the topic at hand.

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