A recent update to the VSCO mod adds the “superbloom” biome, based off of the real life occurrence in California’s deserts. These spectacular natural marvels give species of desert flowers a chance to reproduce when conditions are just right, bringing color and life to desert hillsides and valleys. They don’t occur every year, and aren’t coordinated with their location, rather being dependent on rainfall. Particularly wet and rainy seasons increase the likelihood that dormant seeds will germinate, spawning a superbloom. Although superblooms are a prime example of the intrinsic ecosystem services provided by natural landmarks, the increased tendency to be a tourist attraction for aspiring social media photographers can put the beautiful wonders at risk.
The photogenic superblooms are not always respected by their visitors. When the orange california poppies erupt into bloom across the desert landscape, hikers chase the flowers to take pictures for social media. While paths exist carved through the landscape to assist tourist exploration, oftentimes the influx of visitors can still damage the poppy blooms. Stepping off-trail to take an instagram picture hurts and tramples the wildflowers underfoot, making the site less photogenic for the next visitors to stop by, who might trample even further off the trail into the wildflowers to pursue a better picture opportunity. Off-leash dogs, with no regards to the trail boundaries can scar the landscape if their owners neglect to keep them on the trails. Camera set-ups like tripods that are positioned on top of the flowers might capture breathtaking images of the desert in bloom, but at the cost of the flowers crushed underneath. Trail care-takers like park rangers know that they can’t possibly monitor the entire stretches of hiking trails, so the damage done by visitors who don’t respect recommendations to stay on trails is difficult to prevent. In an era of increased social media use, visitations to these superblooms becomes increasingly common each time they occur. As California or nearby state residents see social media posts featuring the flowers on apps like Instagram, they may be more likely to take the drive to have photo opportunities themselves. All this causes an increase in road usage, worsening traffic because of visitors who wish to see the superbloom. Frustrated drivers stuck in traffic have even been known to leave their cars on the roadside to make their own paths into the desert blooms. For flowers that wait months or even years for the chance to bloom and reproduce when the dry desert weather becomes wet, the increased visitor numbers means that extensive damage is possible.
Despite the increasing popularity of visiting Calfornia’s superblooms, heightened attention also brings more awareness to the problems these environments could face. A prominent lesson is respecting nature. The easiest way to take care of the desert while still visiting it is to respect the trail boundaries. Hiking trail boundaries are designed to easily allow visitors access to some of the most scenic locations in a nature park. Disregard for these trails can be dangerous as hikers have been known to experience potentially life-threatening conditions like heatstroke in the hot desert weather. Additionally, staying on a trail means that flowers off-trail can stay untrampled and photogenic. One way to ensure careful use of the trails is to keep dogs on leash. On leash dogs can be more easily directed to stay on the nature park’s trails, ensuring that less damage to flowers occurs. While sometimes awkward, it could even be helpful to recommend to fellow visitors that they stay out of the flowers if it is noticed that they are violating trail boundaries to trample flowers. While sometimes difficult, out of respect for the deserts individuals can refrain from sharing their superbloom instagram-worthy pictures on social media to potentially reduce the number of visitors who will try to reach the superblooms. Respecting California’s wildflowers protects the locations for future visitors.
In making the superbloom biome, we thought we could try to capture the elements of superblooms that make them valued as social media posts, as our mod, the VSCO mod, revolves around internet trends and aesthetics. With the right shaders, sunlight can hit a Minecraft superbloom hillside in the same way that light illuminates the real-world counterpart in California’s deserts. We hope that this article and the mod bring attention to such a valued natural beauty, while informing the needs to protect such ecosystem services.