Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
Photos by Lauren Jo Sypniewski

As I winded my way through the gorge towards Little Jamaica, I drove with high expectations. In fact, I had just hyped the little oasis to an editor in hopes of highlighting the local hideaway for St. George Magazine.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
The filtered version of Little Jamaica

I’d heard beautiful stories and scoped out awe-inspiring photos online, and yet I’d still never been to Little Jamaica — the waterfall and pool just off Interstate 15 between St. George and Mesquite, just south of the gorge.

Needless to say, I was excited. I’d even put it on my St. George bucket list: a list of places I wanted to see before I said “adios” to the Southern Utah desert. I had told others, especially St. George locals, about my list and the various items on it. A surprisingly high percentage had never heard of Little Jamaica, and many had never been there. So I naturally thought this retreat would be a wonderful place to feature, and hence my mention of it to St. George Magazine editor Shelley Smith.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
The filtered version of Little Jamaica

After leaving the gorge, I took a right on the Desert Springs exit, crossed beneath the expressway, and drove parallel to the highway before running into a dirt parking lot. I parked, joining the number of other cars already in the lot. A gap in the barbed wire fence easily directed the path down to Little Jamaica’s pool and falls.

I wanted so desperately to make a great story out of this mini-trip. I left this bucket list item for last, and I wanted to make sure I went out with a bang. Gripping my camera, I made my sprightly way down the path, ready to snap dozens of great photos. My step lost its sprightly gait as soon as I stood before the barbed wire fencing. Heaps of trash piled against the posts, spilling out onto the path: styrofoam coolers, cardboard beer cases, empty two-liters, beer cans, glass bottles, pizza boxes, and the list continues.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
Families turn a blind eye to the empty beer cans and a dirty diaper to the right

And still, my longing to make this a momentous trip caused me to ignore the four-foot pile of trash and to, instead, make my way down the path. I took photos as I went, but they were carefully posed as I tried to crop out the freeway and as I moved cups and wrappers and cans away from the path. I gathered grass and flowers with one hand and took the photo with the other one, hoping the flora would cover the offenses.

And suddenly the question hit me: Why was I trying so hard to hide the truth? My hands were an Instagram filter, clouding the true story of this Southern Utah “gem,” an “oasis” that wasn’t even located in Southern Utah at all.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
Trash at the trailhead of Little Jamaica, illustrating the work of the “half-way” citizens

For being 6 o’clock in the evening on a weekday, there were a good number of people — perhaps 30— some in the Virgin River, a handful cruising down the side of the waterfall, others lounging along the manmade barricade that held the water from the main falls. Kids, teenagers, babies, friends, families — all coming to Little Jamaica for relief from the summer heat and to bask in nature’s simple pleasures. All ignoring the filth around them and possibly contributing to it as well.

Like all who believe in no dumping, I cannot fathom how people refuse to take out what they bring in with them. On top of that (more often than not) these things weigh less on the outbound journey, so their removal should be even more of a no-brainer. But, no. Popped and deflated volleyballs; ripped camping chairs thrown into the river; the classic beer bottles and cans (glass broken, ready to cut into wet, bare feet); not one, not two, but three dirty diapers; fast-food wrappers.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
Food wrappers off the trail at Little Jamaica; human feces wrapped in napkin

The trash at the trailhead stood as a reminder that people will only go so far. They are “half-way” citizens: decent enough to pick up Little Jamaica proper, only to drop the trash on the outskirts. It’s like wiping a booger on someone else’s pants when you were the one who had to go and pick your nose in the first place — you don’t care as long as you can make it someone else’s problem.

Even worse than the sight, though, was the smell — putrid, rotting, dirty, permeating the air and reminding everyone that they couldn’t escape the filth that has collected. I had wanted to swim. Now, I wouldn’t even take my clothes off to reveal my swimsuit. I felt gross even removing my flip-flops.

Little Jamaica, Southern Utah, St. George, trash, filth
Empty cups in the reeds; trash off the side of the path

And here were families, trying to enjoy a night away from home, clearly more desperate than me to get the most out of their trip because they continued to ignore the trash around them.

How long are we going to ignore it? How long are we going to allow our children and our neighbors and ourselves to literally swim in the filth that we leave behind? How long are we going to rationalize to ourselves that it is okay to dump and ditch, to take advantage of the natural earth, to leave behind trash and filth, to tarnish an otherwise beautiful oasis? When are we going to restore Little Jamaica to its namesake?

 

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