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Why Are So Many People Acting Like Jerks in National Parks? A Radical Proposal to End the Selfishness

Did you hear about the "Tourist Bros" who reportedly have a warrant out for their arrest for trampling on fragile areas of Yellowstone? 

A vanity project called "High on Life SundayFundayz" is in serious hot water. Somehow, these arrogant Canadians convinced people to send them money to take a cross-country American trip in a customized RV and shoot social media video as they went along. It deliberately ignored the National Park-established walkways and splashed around in the Grand Prismatic Spring because, you know, YOLO.

Oh, and in other videos they produced, they appear to be waterskiing off the back of that RV at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats and flying drones around Utah's Arches and Zion national parks. "Stop limiting yourself," they lecture in one video.

These dudes think they're a lifestyle brand just because they don't have regular jobs. Look at a few of their YouTube videos, and you'll see that's disingenuous. Although they claim to want everyone to travel the world, pretty much every frame puts themselves at the center, and the only culture they truly explore is their own craving for indulgence. It's a brand built for bragging.

According to their website, they live by hawking clothing, throwing parties, breaking leases, and adopting the slogan "If You Can You Should" to sell their manufactured personalities to a public weaned on shallow, image-obsessed celebrity.

Well, maybe they could, but they shouldn't have. Going off the trail at Yellowstone is illegal for good reasons. Hundreds of people stared stunned from the established path while these guys with GoPros for brains went to the edge of a steaming thermal pool and dipped their hands in it. Forget the fact they left footprints all over land that hasn't been scuffled by humans for years. They could have easily cracked through the crust of the earth and been boiled alive. 

They have apologized using Facebook—of course—and donated $5,000 to Yellowstone, but that won't get them off the hook for potential federal charges ranging from trespassing to filming without a permit.

These self-indulgent spotlight hogs aren't the only people who have been entering U.S. national parks and pretending like they're the only people who count.

In February, actress Vanessa Hudgens and her boyfriend defaced a rock in Sedona National Forest by scratching their own names into it. The AP reports she agreed to pay $1,000 which will probably have to be used to wash or sandblast the rock she vandalized. Count her lucky: She could have spent six months in jail and paid $5,000 in fines.

And then there are the dim bulbs from an unnamed foreign country who, upon encountering a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park, thought that it looked cold. While other parkgoers stared in disbelief, they loaded it into the hatchback of their rental car and drove the animal to a ranger's office. A moment of ignorance had a deadly price: When the calf was returned to its mother, she rejected it, and when it started approaching humans for food, it had to be euthanized.

The three incidents have one thing in common: They were all photographed for social media.

Graffiti and vandalism have long been an issue at our national treasures. Mammoth Caves, Carlsbad Caverns, El Morro in New Mexico are just three places where you can find it. But there's an important difference: That graffiti was made at a time when they weren't national parks, when America's resources were mistakenly thought to be endless and self-replenishing. 

You'd think that anyone would have the sense to not touch, and to stay on the trail. But this is 2016, and the need for social media approval has finally overpowered common sense.

I don't want to make a sweeping generalization and blame the youth of today, to bemoan the Selfie Generation, because it's not that simple.

No, the problem is with people who have been trained to think that everything they see and do exists to be consumed or captured. That self-centered attitude can be bred by youth or it can simply come from inexperience with the precious qualities of the natural world, such as the tourists who anthropomorphized a wild animal with the willful ignorance of a DreamWorks animator. (In that case, the social media memorialization was made by a bystander who couldn't believe the idiocy of what she was witnessing—but it was immediately shared on social media, too.)

Given a commercial culture that puts everything in context of seizing your own narrative, and given a social media culture that is built upon boasting, tourists are more enamored with the idea of themselves "doing" places than with the idea of the places themselves. 

Without the ability to broadcast a boast, and without a Snapchat-fueled urge to make the whole world feel jealous that you've gone somewhere wonderful or eaten something good, we might be able to reverse this trend of strip-mining sights to feed our own vanity or bolster our own images. If there were no one to impress, we just might tend to stop making destinations all about ourselves.

Put away the phones. Then, don't touch anything.

That's it. That's all you need to do to be a true traveler. Feel the breeze, see the perfect shape of the mountains, and hear the animals—and hopefully realize it wasn't all put there just for you to duckface in front of.