I was hiking in the desert when Mother Nature called. My friend told me I should void on a south-facing rock, then spread my feces with a stick for the sun and wind to desiccate and dispel. This sounded like crazy talk to me. I told him I was going to bury it like I always have. Can you tell us what method of backcountry defecation is most environmentally correct?
You bring up a sensitive and worthy subject. To answer the question: You were both correct, depending upon your proximity to civilization and the climate. If you were deep in the backcountry with little chance of anyone finding your scat, the smear technique your friend advocated is valid—but only in deserted desert climes.
Most of us rarely get off the beaten path far enough to perform this procedure with a clean conscience (plus, it’s rather Freudian), so burial remains Jock’s preferred technique, especially in the high-alpine environment around Telluride. Choose an out-of-the-way spot where others will not tread that is 50-plus yards from any water. Dig a hole at least eight inches deep. If you opt for toilet paper, carry it out in a plastic bag for later disposal (sans baggie) in a sewer system. In winter, the same guidelines apply.
For fetishists interested in the nuances of this topic, there’s an informative book entitled How to S*** in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer. It’s amazing what gets published these days.