In my professional life I travel to a lot of weird places looking for meteorites, fossils and other natural history treasures. More often that not, we are working in remote areas, far from civilization, and regularly encounter unusual plants, animals, and environments.
A typical expedition might involve two or three 4WD vehicles, enough food and water to keep a small group active and healthy for a couple of weeks, maybe an ATV or two, and other heavy gear such as large metal detectors and digging tools. On one hand I am thrilled by the opportunity to experience aspects of the natural world that city dwellers rarely, if ever, get to see. On the other hand, I am always somewhat concerned by the impact our convoy might have on delicate ecosystems.
Recently, we have been exploring a zone that would have been quick and easy to scout on ATVs, but we decided to work on foot instead. What might have taken only an afternoon on a motorized all-terrain vehicle took days to explore the old fashioned way: boots in the dirt. During the past few weks we have run across numerous beautiful (and protected) horned toads. cacti with new, brightly-colored buds; intriguing millipedes with their hundreds of tiny, perfectly aligned legs; rare flowers; hummingbirds, and many other small living things that would be crushed in an instant by the fat tires on a quad.
When driving off-road in trucks, we try to stay on existing trails as often as possible, and I frequently make an instantaneous detour to avoid flattening a plant or pummeling a flying insect. Campsites are typically set up in a natural clearing and my team is always meticulous about packing out all of our trash, except for the very few things that are naturally biodegradable and will, in fact, provide food for our temporary neighbors—apple cores and orange peels for example.
If we need a campfire we either bring wood with us, or gather dead branches from the ground. Using a small portable gasoline stove prevents us from having to burn any natural materials at the site. When we are excavating, we avoid damaging plants as much as possible, and always fill in our holes. Team members who smoke collect cigarette butts in an empty bottle, and we even make a point of picking up other people’s trash (if there is any out there in the wilds). We try to leave a site just a little cleaner than we found it.
Some things are unavoidable: We burn gasoline in the trucks, and we need batteries and electricity to power our equipment. Food and water are consumed. Weeds are run over by vehicles. But we do our best to be considerate visitors. I make my living by working with the natural world, so it is my duty and pleasure to respect its integrity.