Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire was very good and I enjoyed the way he told the audience of his season as a Park Ranger in Arches National park in Utah. Aside from Abbey’s storytelling abilities and brief instances of comedic sarcasm, he really seemed to stress the importance of wilderness to humans and the importance of places that have no human or little human impact.
This is a Picture of one of the arches from Arches National Monument
One of the first things that I thought about after reading the book was that places that we define as wilderness are not always void, or at least at some point weren’t void of human life. This is something that I feel Abbey addresses well although maybe not straight forward. After reading the book you realize that all the places that Abbey explored in the desert had some hint of human life. The place he was staying and had as a base camp was man made and he had electricity there, even when he went deep into the desert he would find traces of cultures long since passed, by examining petroglyphs on the walls of canyons made by Native Americans. Even when you thought that he was going to find a place untraveled on a tributary of the Colorado Abbey looks up and sees the houses of Native Americans or a mine camp or a passage carved by the Mormons crossing the River. It seemed that everywhere he went he never found a place that a human had not been. The chapter Down the River really showed the impact that Humans have on the environment because as Abbey points out the building of the Damn will change the whole River for hundreds of miles therefore being influenced by humans. This idea of an uninhabitable and “wild” place like a desert being influenced by people goes to show the danger humans can cause in the environment.
I do not think that Abbey expected to see a place unaltered by humans; rather he wanted to see a place that had not been influenced heavily by humans or at least a place where people aren’t around a lot and is hard for people to survive. This is where I think he places the value in wilderness. Wilderness is a place where people want to go to get away from other people and the hustle and bustle of things, and in this I feel Abbey is saying that anything can be a wilderness to anybody, to him I think it was the desert he grew fond of, for someone else it may be a place like the meadowlands. The thing that I think Wilderness has in common in everybody’s view of the term is that Wilderness is that place that we use as a possibility of escape.
Abbey puts it best in the book when he says
“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it’s there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis”
In this one can see the importance of our natural parks, as places of escape and as symbols of wilderness; although they may not entirely be true to the definition of the term they still serve as reminders of what wilderness stands for.
Here are some pics taken of glen canyon by Eliot Porter, who wrote the book “The Place That No One Knew” the picture on the left is of rainbow bridge, and the one on the right is of one of the canyons. The Title of Porter’s book really sums up What the Glen Canyon Damn did to the Glen Canyon.
On a final note I would like to state that Abbey has a point about the dangers of using national parks as money makers. To me this highly degrades their authenticity and furthermore slowly begins to tear them apart , as Abbey discusses how more and more roads are being developed, and the jumble of tourism in certain spots you begin to realize that there are special places in the world still that aren’t special when everybody and their brother has access to it. Abbey wrote this book in the late sixties and today I feel as if those special places are all but gone today and that the list of places that take two days to hike too in order to see a natural sight is mighty short. This really goes to show the importance of understanding the environment and how we shape it thorough our actions.