Desert Solitaire Notes

– Lonnie Barnes

For me, the main theme in Desert Solitaire was the distinction between society and wilderness.

Abbey clearly believes that the two should be separate. For example, in Polemic: Industrial Tourism and The National Parks he talks of his disappointment at meeting the surveyors that were planning to build a paved road through the National Park. Even his description of their arrival (pgs. 52-53) is negative – “the snarling whine of a jeep” – and gives a sense of impending doom.

He is heavily critical of any kind of move to industrialize these parks, and he elaborates on this in the same chapter. “There are some who frankly and boldly advocate the eradication of the last remnants of wilderness and the complete subjugation of nature to the requirements of – not man – but industry…it is…quite insane.” (58) He paints a picture of National Parks not as wilderness, but rather as another opportunity for industrial profit.

At the beginning of the book, he states that the industrialization of the park was the reason he stopped going back, though in Solitaire he says that the first time he was there, the area was not completely undeveloped. “The roads are not paved…but are easily passable to any automobile…The trails are well marked…there are three small campgrounds, each with tables, fireplaces, garbage cans and pit toilets.” (10-11) A question that occurred to me while reading was: where does Abbey draw the line between “adequately developed” and industry?

In Week 1, one of the definitions we looked described wilderness as uninhabitable land. It seems that Abbey would tend to think of wilderness not in this way, but rather as land that shouldn’t be affected by industry and society.

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