Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 19, 2012

Do we save, or spend, wilderness?

“The Doll House” formation sits atop a 1000-foot cliff in the Maze District. 11/2/11. Few people get to see this extravagantly wild area.

 

“All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.” 

This quote by Aldo Leopold is a bit disconcerting. I have nothing but deep respect for this man who did more to shape environmental ethics in the 20th century than nearly anyone else, but it is my sincere hope that we can protect our wild places without ruining them.

There is a corner of Canyonlands National Park, the Maze District, that is about as wild and inhospitable as anywhere in the lower 48 states. No paved roads exist; access is by high-clearance 4WD, horseback, or backpacking. The only way I was ever able to set foot there was via a raft trip on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. It is so remote, so isolated, that outlaws such as Butch Cassidy used the area in the late 19th century to hide out from the authorities after robbing a bank or payroll train. There really is nowhere quite like it, and I tremble to think what a loss it would be if that place were fondled to death as Mr Leopold surmises.

Sunrise, the Maze District — from Cataract Canyon of the Colorado River

Do you agree or disagree with this quote? Is Leopold’s premise necessarily true? If so, should we bother setting aside untrammeled areas?

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