Slogan Origin: Take Nothing But Pictures. Leave Nothing But Footprints

Museum Sign? Park Sign? Boy Scout Adage? Sierra Club Motto? Spelunkers Adage? Conrad L. Wirth? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Humans are now visiting remote and pristine locations around the globe. People are drawn to beautiful, historic, memorable, scenic, and enigmatic locales. A crucial admonition is impressed on visitors to these significant places. Here are two instances from this family of sayings:

(1) Take only memories; leave only footprints.
(2) Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints.

Would you please explore the provenance of this guidance?

Reply from Quote Investigator: This advice is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in July 1954 within an article published in a Cameron, Missouri newspaper about Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. This U.S. park features cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1954 July 8, The Cameron Sun, Bandelier National Monument, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Cameron, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)

The museum contains numerous examples of Indian culture and art. A sign says: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

Thus, the earliest evidence suggests that the U.S. National Park service popularized this guidance by 1954, but the originator remains anonymous.

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

Image Notes: Picture of cliffs at Bandelier National Monument from Jael Coon at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Paul Rauber whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Barry Popik for his pioneering research on this family of sayings. Popik located citations beginning circa 1957. Also, thanks to the Sierra Club librarian at William E. Colby Memorial Library, in Oakland, California who located the 1958 citation in the “Sierra Club Bulletin”. All errors are the responsibility of QI.


1 1954 July 8, The Cameron Sun, Bandelier National Monument, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Cameron, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)