“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” - Ed Abbey
May 15, 2013
October 10, 2010
If you were to choose one thing to “startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of… that which is full of wonder” — I’m curious what you’d select. Dissonant music? Eye-grabbing contemporary art? Skydiving?
Edward Abbey, the 1950s park ranger at Arches National Park who wrote Desert Solitaire, said that it is nature that does these things. I concur. Particularly effective are natural phenomena that are just outside the bounds of the expected. Look at the examples I give, and then tell me what moves YOUR mind out of its rut. What re-awakens you to the wonderful?
September 18, 2010
For eight hours we had hiked up and down washes in the Lost Spring Canyon area — real estate not in the original Arches NP, but added in 1998 for its scenic value. Bill was evaluating habitat for Mexican Spotted Owls, necessary before deciding on things like rock climbing management plans. We looked for roosting areas, white-washed cliff walls, owl pellets, rodent bone graveyards. Along the way we also found lithic scatters, annoying invasive plant species, and Desert Spiny Lizards.
The beauty of it was in hiking for an entire day and not seeing another party out there. In a national park that will likely see a million visitors this year for the first time, that is not an easy assignment.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” wrote Edward Abbey. I agree. It is when I am out in the middle of nowhere that I feel most fully alive. Cliff walls, animal tracks, and visual textures invite me to use my senses and intellect to categorize and compare. Identifying lizards, plants, and rock layers exercises my mind while the hiking exercises my body. Taking scores of photographs helps me remember the places I walked, as well as challenging my eyes to see things differently.
Behind it all, however, is an acute awareness of the power of the desert to command respect. Heat and intense sunlight sap one’s strength. Water intake has to be nearly constant. Being vigilant about potential dangers — plants, animals, environment — is mandatory. Stepping over the spider web instead of walking through it is a wise choice when in Black Widow territory. Choosing long pants in the 94-degree heat is more intelligent when invasive pokey Russian Thistle clog the paths. (Why we continue to romanticize the “tumbleweed” is unknown to me. The cowboys didn’t know how out of control they would soon get.)
I can hear some of you thinking that you’d rather just stay in the comfort of your own home. I respect that. While wilderness wandering is not everyone’s cup of tea, I certainly am glad that visionary people forever preserved large chunks of it for us all to enjoy. Long live our national parks!
March 17, 2010
Edward Abbey, a curmudgeonly park ranger here in the 1950s, was assigned to watch over the entire national monument. In the long stints between visitors he jotted the thoughts that would become Desert Solitaire, the book that is responsible for my love of all things desert. He said:
“I like my job. The pay is generous; I might even say munificent: $1.95 per hour, earned or not, backed solidly by the world’s most powerful Air Force, biggest national debt, and grossest national product. The fringe benefits are priceless: clean air to breathe (after the spring sandstorms); stillness, solitude and space; an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, clouds, mountains, moon, cliffrock and canyons; a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate — though impossible to name — in the remote.”
Amen to that.