More college students than ever are majoring in Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Education, or Adventure Education, but fewer and fewer Americans spend any time in thoughtful, respectful engagement with wilderness. While many young people may think of adrenaline-laced extreme sports as prime outdoor activities, with Outdoors in the Southwest, Andrew Gulliford seeks to promote appreciation for and discussion of the wild landscapes where those sports are played.
Advocating an outdoor ethic based on curiosity, cooperation, humility, and ecological literacy, this essay collection features selections by renowned southwestern writers including Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Abbey, Craig Childs, and Barbara Kingsolver, as well as scholars, experienced guides, and river rats. Essays explain the necessity of nature in the digital age, recount rafting adventures, and reflect on the psychological effects of expeditions. True-life cautionary tales tell of encounters with nearly disastrous flash floods, 900-foot falls, and lightning strikes. The final chapter describes the work of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and other exemplars of “wilderness tithing”—giving back to public lands through volunteering, stewardship, and eco-advocacy.
Addressing the evolution of public land policy, the meaning of wilderness, and the importance of environmental protection, this collection serves as an intellectual guidebook not just for students but for travelers and anyone curious about the changing landscape of the West.
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Outdoors in the Southwest
An Adventure Anthology
By Andrew Gulliford
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
Why We Need Wilderness
All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.
—T. K. Whipple, Study Out the Land
We must save wilderness because in saving it we will be saving part of ourselves. We have been shaped by the wild lands we have lived in, and because they are still part of our landscape, they continue to live within us. When they are gone, many of the fundamental values that created America will also vanish. Take away the wilderness and the American Dream will lose its authenticity.
—Karen Shepherd, Testimony
I'm never as happy as when I step across a wilderness boundary and into a federally protected wilderness. Once across that magical border I know that I will encounter only hikers or horseback riders, because motorized vehicles are not allowed in wilderness. Behind me is a world of machines and roads, and ahead a landscape as wild as can be found in America, a place where natural systems and processes are allowed to maintain nature's balance.
With my first step into wilderness, everything changes. I have heightened awareness of my responsibility for my own actions, and that includes taking the risks that could result in a medical emergency. Ed Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire, "There are special hazards in traveling alone. Your chances of dying in case of sickness or accident are much improved, simply because there is no one around to go for help." In The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder defines wilderness as "a place of danger and difficulty: where you take your own chances, depend on your own skills, and do not count on rescue." "The wilderness can be a ferocious teacher," he adds, "rapidly stripping down the inexperienced or the careless. It is easy to make the mistake that will bring one to an extremity." But without risk, there is little to no reward, and little revelation.
Leo McAvoy writes, "Adventure programs use wilderness areas because of the opportunities there to have participants experience the beauty and grandeur of nature, and also because of the risk, challenge and opportunity for self-sufficiency that the wilderness provides." To further that opportunity, on federal lands he has suggested creating "rescue-free wilderness areas" where visitors "could experience the self-growth that comes from the challenge of testing themselves and taking full responsibility for their actions." Not a bad idea, and Abbey agrees. In describing Grand Canyon in Down the River, Abbey wrote, "Let each person who enters the Canyon, whether on foot, on mule, or by boat, clearly understand that some risk is involved, some rather elementary and fundamental risk and that nothing can guarantee your safety but your own common sense. Nor even that. Nothing should be guaranteed. Nothing can be."
It's exhilarating to be in a canyon or on a forest trail free from the technological tedium of the twenty-first century. I'm back to basics with what's on my feet, in my pack, and in my heart. A destination in mind, the trek begins and I've found through the years that the heaviest thing I carry into wilderness isn't in my backpack but in my head. The cluttered thoughts and ideas I carry, that mental baggage, can take a day or two on the trail to unload. "Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons," wrote Sigurd Olson. "It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives as well." He adds, "When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost."
I've enjoyed hikes in many Colorado wilderness areas, such as the Uncompahgre, Weminuche, Lizard Head, Flat Tops, Lost Creek, West Elk, and Maroon Bells. In New Mexico, the Bisti, the Gila, and the Aldo Leopold wildernesses are others I have trekked, but there are so many more places to go, so many more hikes to make. I cut my teeth in the Gila, the place where I began to understand the true meaning and value of wilderness and the valiant fight of conservationists to protect large landscapes for their natural processes but also as part of our American tradition. Huck Finn said it best: "I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."
We need wild spaces. We need them to get away from the stress and strain of daily life, the rampant consumerism, the crowded cityscapes—for their refuge. Alone in their vastness, we need to unzip from our sleeping bags and breathe freely of the morning air, waking only to the soft twitter of birds and the glow of sunrise streaming through aspen groves and creeping over canyon walls.
What I love about wilderness is that it's egalitarian. One's possessions, one's career, one's concerns all are left behind at the trailhead. In wilderness you are who you are and what you carry—both in and out. The concept of "Leave No Trace" has real meaning as both an ethic and a way of traveling through natural landscapes. For students of adventure education and outdoor leadership disciplines who aspire to become guides, one reward is that wilderness will be home away from home. Canoeist Sigurd Olson wrote, "We all have a pronounced streak of the primitive set deep within us, an instinctive longing that compels us to leave the confines of civilization and bury ourselves periodically in the most inaccessible spots we can penetrate ... and what makes guiding the sport of kings is just that. No two men react alike. There is always variety in human nature."
As Americans, our ancestors pioneered a wild continent that was not ruled by kings. In learning to survive in the new land, the challenges of nature to body and mind built within us the essential values that make us uniquely American. Our American character was hewn out of wilderness. The frontier spirit that drove us westward, into and across vast wilderness, forged within us American pride. Keeping wildlands and wilderness areas intact, and learning to use them well, is thus the essence of American patriotism.
* * *
Many of my students hike into wilderness to learn about the landscapes but also to learn more about themselves, their friends, and their future. Wilderness tests them, not just their endurance but also their understandings of community, sharing, and getting along with others, whether the climate is hot, wet, or cold, or if the trail is difficult. It's about discovering in their own way that possessions can clutter our lives and that inside each of us are inner reserves and strengths. Wilderness teaches us not about comfort but about new levels of understanding both within and without ourselves—life lessons, learned in the outdoors.
As Craig Childs explains in Soul of Nowhere, "It wasn't heroism or glory that I hoped to find in these places. Rather, it was the odor of rain, it was encountering animals alone in the heavy woods, or the moment in trackless country when I realize that I am utterly lost and suddenly there is no separation between me and the ground beneath me." Dave Foreman agrees. He writes in Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, "Our passion comes from our connection to the Earth and it is only through direct interaction with the wilderness that we can unite our minds and our bodies with the land, realizing that there is no separation."
I once had a student say in class, "Everybody talks about finding themselves in wilderness, but can't I find myself in the mall?" Dead silence spread through the classroom. I spoke up, saying, "Well, yes, you could find yourself in a mall, I guess, but malls are about buying things, about material possessions that come and go. What we're discussing are enduring values, the sorts of strengths and insights that can't be bought but have to be earned." That didn't resonate with her, not right away. But later, after a weekend river trip, she seemed to be getting it. She had enjoyed floating the San Juan River, sleeping in a tent, and paddling a duckie solo. In class, she wore less make-up.
I knew I had succeeded when at the end of the semester another student stated that the course had clarified her goals to spend an extended amount of time outdoors. She became inspired, wanting to rearrange her life to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. As her professor, I felt deep gratification because I knew she'd take into the field what she learned in our classroom.
And what are those lessons we learn with the heart and lungs as well as the head? They're personal truths about self-reliance, independence, and risk taking. About going to the edge and challenging oneself not just in miles hiked but also in sleeping under the stars. We learn to let our body adjust to natural rhythms rather than the routines of work and home. Wilderness teachings can and should be deeply personal, but there are also skills to learn such as orienteering, low-impact camping, map reading, water filtration, and meal planning. Students of wildlands should also know the sweep of American environmental history and how we came to have our precious public lands in the first place.
* * *
One of the greatest advocates for wildlands was my hero, President Theodore Roosevelt. He worked to set aside more public land than any other president before or since. Though born in New York City, in a brownstone in Manhattan, he came to truly know the West. He wrote, "The man should have youth and strength who seeks adventure in the wide, waste spaces of the earth, in the marshes, and among the vast mountain masses, in the northern forests, amid the steaming jungles of the tropics, or on the desert of sand or of snow. He must long greatly for the lonely winds that blow across the wilderness, and for sunrise and sunset over the rim of the empty world."
When we hike in the Southwest we owe a great debt to the early conservationists who understood the need to protect wildland as part of the American experience. For in many ways our American character was not forged in cities or on factory floors but in contact with vast landscapes. "In the wilderness you learned what was authentic and what was not," writes Kim Heacox in The Only Kayak. "To 'boot up' meant to put on your boots, not turn on your computer. A mouse was still a mouse. Hardware was your kayak.... You slept on the ground until you were uncomfortable in a bed," explained the former backcountry ranger. "You breathed fresh air until you suffocated indoors. You laughed from your toes and flew in your dreams.... You found that you could sing the high notes; that true wealth was not a matter of adding to your possessions but of subtracting from the sum of your desires. You understood what was enough and what was too much and why the prophets went into the desert alone."
* * *
The concept of wilderness comes to us as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The word appears 246 times in the Old Testament of the Bible. Originally considered to be desert, worthless and without water, wilderness also came to be considered a place for savage men and wild beasts. Later it became a place for solitude and sanctuary. A century and a half after the first farms had been planted along the Atlantic seaboard, Henry David Thoreau proclaimed in his 1851 lecture at the Lyceum in Concord, Massachusetts, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." But for a nation bent upon industrialization, his was a voice crying in the wilderness.
In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act, which realized Thomas Jefferson's dream of providing for a nation of yeoman farmers. Any head of household, male or female, could travel west and claim 160 acres if they lived on the land for five years and cultivated it, but the West had neither the water nor deep enough soils to sustain agriculture without irrigation. Thousands of farms failed.
As the nation began to perceive the loss of its public land and wild landscapes, a conservation movement emerged in the 1890s. Rather than carving up the entire public domain for private ownership, the government assigned some of the land to the U.S. Forest Service, led by the talented Gifford Pinchot, while other lands were designated national parks. What was left became, in 1946, the domain of the Bureau of Land Management. A broader-based environmental movement in the 1960s focused on the value of not just public land for human uses but also ecosystems.
Wallace Stegner argued eloquently that the American character had been "hewed" out of wilderness, and the frontier spirit had spurred the creation of America. Stegner called wilderness "the geography of hope," and in his famous 1960 wilderness letter he wrote, "Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed."
In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, one of the significant pieces of legislation coming from the "Conservation Congress" and President Lyndon B. Johnson. At last America had come to terms with its vanishing wild landscapes and sought to preserve small vestiges of the continent as it had existed when the colonists arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. But much of the public estate that belongs to all Americans, including many thousands of acres of federally protected wilderness areas, can be attributed to the pen of President Theodore Roosevelt.
* * *
In our bedroom we have two photos of strangers. In one image, John Wesley Powell, the leader of the first documented exploration of Grand Canyon, points off into the distance while a Ute friend looks on. I am inspired by Powell and his courageous 1869 boat trip into Grand Canyon. In the second photo, President Teddy Roosevelt sits in the morning sunlight in a cabin south of Silt, Colorado. In his lap sits a small terrier—an aspiring hunting dog—and the president seems engrossed in an open book, light glinting off his spectacles. He wears dusty lace-up boots and an old hunting jacket. His work shirt is buttoned to the collar, and his pants are frayed.
This photo of Roosevelt never fails to draw my attention. Here was an easterner from Manhattan, a Harvard graduate, a member of the New York legislature and later governor of New York, who would come to know the West unlike any other American president. Teddy hunted across the United States, and he set aside millions of acres of public lands. He protected 234 million acres or a whopping 8,400 acres a day during his presidency. Other presidents have presidential libraries and museums, but Roosevelt has none. His real legacy is the millions of acres of western lands he saved from overzealous timber barons and cattle ranchers. I wish more presidents hunted deer and elk, read books in Colorado log cabins, and had frayed pants cuffs and dusty boots.
* * *
The concept of wilderness, an idea with deep meaning for thinkers such as Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, and Olaus and Mardy Murie, finally coalesced into federal legislation with congressional passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Later, federal agencies inventoried select roadless areas as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). They currently sit in legal limbo awaiting definitive decisions from Congress, who has not acted on many of those lands in years. But we need additional wilderness for many reasons. John Muir, that talented Scotsman who founded the Sierra Club, wrote in 1898, "Thousands of nerve-shaken, overly civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." Today, we do not have enough acreage designated as wilderness. The percentage of wilderness in the continental United States actually equals the percentage of the country's land that is paved, or about 4 percent. As a nation we have yet to adopt a land ethic, though Aldo Leopold recommended it in A Sand County Almanac, his conservation classic.
Wilderness areas protect watersheds. They act as refuges and sanctuaries for humans and as genetic banks for flora and fauna. Federal wilderness areas also inspire strong statements and political passions. Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire:
Wilderness invokes nostalgia.... It means something lost and something still present, something remote and at the same time intimate, something buried in our blood and nerves and something beyond us and without limit.... But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and which sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see.... No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
Excerpted from Outdoors in the Southwest by Andrew Gulliford. Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Our Need for Nature and Adventure,
1. Why We Need Wilderness,
2. Looking for History,
3. Mountain Hiking and Climbing,
4. Canyons and Deserts,
5. Running Western Rivers,
6. Solo in the Southwest: Going Out and Coming Back,
7. Animal Encounters,
8. Wilderness Tithing: Giving Back to Public Lands,
List of Contributors,