The Line Starts Here

DSCF0855“Do you think Edward Abbey is turning over in his grave?” my son asked.

We were standing in a growing queue of disgruntled humanity, waiting to claim a seat on one of the shuttle buses pulling into the visitors’ center parking lot at Zion National Park in an endless convoy. Even in the blast furnace that is southern Utah in late July, hundreds of people continued to flock to the park’s transportation service, instituted almost 20 years ago when traffic on the two-lane road into the heart of the canyon became unmanageable. Since then the throngs have only grown more unwieldy.

“Spinning like a top,” I surmised.

This was what the naturalist/curmudgeon/misanthrope saw coming six decades earlier. Desert Solitaire, his ode to the slickrock and silence of Utah’s canyon country, warned of a time when we humans would choke what was a pristine and empty wilderness. As a ranger at the then newly-formed Arches National Monument, he once went so far as to pull up the surveyor stakes that marked out the new (paved) road planned by the park service to allow better access to the area. He had nothing but disdain for the doughy tourists who peeked out the windows of their motor homes at the natural wonders around them, and his employer, whom he felt was mismanaging the resources it was supposed to be protecting.

It would appear his fears have been realized. The parks are overrun. People are everywhere. In the case of Zion, the trail to Angels Landing – an improbable viewpoint at the tip of a soaring fin of sandstone – is every bit as crowded as a rush-hour freeway. The last half-mile along the ridge (where chains have been installed as a handhold to keep you from plunging the thousand or so feet down the sheer face of the rock to a messy end) is like a game of ‘chicken’ as those heading toward the top and those coming back down meet and try to decide who will be the first to relinquish their death-grip on that precarious life-line.

‘The Narrows’ are equally log-jammed, with hundreds of people at a time vying for footing in the gentle currents of the Virgin River, making it perhaps the most well-traveled slot canyon in the world.

DSCF0871

Heading up The Narrows with a thousand of our closest friends

And in a crowd of those proportions, you will contend with all types. Most are pleasant enough, of course, but many are far less than that. They are the ‘I don’t give a shit about your personal space’ers, the ‘we’re going to stroll five-abreast down this trail so no one can get around us’ sorts, the ones who believe ‘lines are for everyone else but me,’ the ‘fuck quiet time at 10pm, we’ll be as loud as we want for as late as we want’ers, the ‘my friends and I are stopping in the only passageway in this crowded cafeteria to stare at the menu’ types. Those who have absolutely no consideration for others.

Not that I have any ‘Holier than thou’ position to preach from. I am merely one of the herd, returning to a place I fell in love with many years ago, this time with my son. But I’m sure his first impressions of Mukuntuweap (as the Paiutes called it) are far different from mine. Yes, everyone should have an opportunity to experience the grandeur of the natural world. Yes, doing it with so many people lessens that experience, to a great degree.

And so we seek out the less-traveled paths. Surprisingly, there are still some around. One day we hiked a good distance into the wilderness outside of the main canyon, where we came across only a handful of others. Another morning, avoiding the most heavily-traveled routes and hiking times, we got up close and personal with several bighorn sheep.

New_1_DSCF0906

Zion bighorn, from a distance…

DSCF0913

…and a bit closer.

I have no answers – it simply is what it is. The world is becoming a very crowded place, even those formerly pristine and empty corners. Which makes it impossible at times to avoid the teeming masses. And as Jerry Seinfeld noted (and to which Abbey would surely agree), “People – they’re the worst.”

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “The Line Starts Here

  1. Edward Abbey could be as cantankerous and purely obnoxious as any of the people he criticized. He was willing to support sabotage in wilderness areas (his Master’s thesis concerned “Anarchism and the Morality of Violence”), and he was “known to throw beer cans from his car because the highway he was traveling had already ruined the landscape surrounding it.” I certainly share many of his concerns, but some of his methods were pretty distasteful to me — not that he’d care, of course.

    As for people? They can be thoughtless, selfish, self-absorbed, and selfie-obsessed — but I don’t think they’re the worst. Trying to find a way to bring out those lurking better natures is the challenge.

    Those photos of the bighorn sheep are great. I’ve never seen one in the wild, yet — but I’m hoping.

    • I’ll agree…Abbey’s antics often seemed at odds with his goals. Besides, anarchy in general makes for a lousy social model. But his obvious love of wilderness struck a chord with me when I was first learning to appreciate the natural world myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of ‘those lurking better natures’ these last few days in Zion. Most of my encounters were with self-centered types who didn’t seem to care a whit about the magnificence around them. Why they even bothered to visit the park is beyond me.
      As for the bighorns, one came to within about 20 feet of us…exciting, but a little closer than I was comfortable with.

  2. And don’t forget Camus, “Other people are hell.” Yeah. Is it always like that out there, you suppose? I’m wondering, wondering if there are periods of lesser traffic, if something spurred the high numbers.

  3. Abbey was a rank misogynist in addition to his other sins but be still touches that place in me that agrees with a lot of what he says. My favorite abbey quote always, always comes to me in a national park:

    In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll begin to see something, maybe. Probably not.

    Traces of blood…part of the experience.! The crowds depress me too., at least the portion of them that seems to consuming, rather than experiencing and loving, which is a larger portion than I would wish..

    As a strange aside, I thought I’d followed you ages ago, yet I kept wondering why I never got your posts in my feed. Duh. Remedied.

    • As with any zealot, he was on the lunatic fringe, but I can’t argue with the core of his message…nature is my cathedral – don’t fuck it up. With this particular trip, I knew going in that the crowds would be bad, just didn’t realize HOW bad. Jesus! It’s why I tend to stick with more ‘backcountry’ stuff. Still, I want my kids to see some of the things that inspired me, so that means mucking it up with the herd now and then. And thanks for the follow.

      • I hear you. We faced this at GSMNP last year. It always leaves me feeling very Abbey-ish. One question: has Zion instituted a shuttle system, or is that another Utah park I’m thinking of?

      • Yep, Zion has gone to the shuttles, so there’s no escaping the throngs, at least in the main canyon. We took a day and explored Kolob Canyon, which has a ‘wilderness’ designation and, consequently, far less use.

  4. Alas, the crowds seem to be everywhere that connects with a highway, electricity, water, etc. Lots of ‘rattlesnake’ and ‘bear/mountain lion’ warning signs are good. River/stream crossings cut traffic, and hikes above 10 miles one way can be effective. The biggest thing is avoiding the main tourist/vacation seasons. Go ahead, push the seasonal thing; just be prepared for what you might run into. It can be fun, a challenge- cold weather, snow, rain, hail. It could turn into ‘hell week(s).’ Week days rather than weekends for short trips. In general, 2-3 days from a trailhead makes a difference. But finding that ‘road/trail less traveled’ is the challenge that can make all the difference. Those back-country, washboard roads that destroy front alignments, ball joints tend to cut traffic. Use topos/compass, and find those out of the way places only the locals (ha) know about. Get down and dirty and have some fun! And when you hit ‘gold,’ don’t blog about it! 😉

    • I would much prefer a weather-related ‘hell week’ to a crowd-filled one. I knew it would be bad – I live about an hour from Rocky Mountain NP. It’s a favorite, but basically ‘off-limits’ in the summer due to the constant log-jam of tourists. But it was the only time my son and I could coordinate so we held our noses and made the reservations. As a former AT/Boundary Waters/Grand Canyon explorer, I’m trying to show my kids some of the old haunts, but it’s a different reality these days. And you’re right about seeking out the less-traveled places – we’ve found many beautiful trails on the fringes of RMNP that are nearly empty by comparison. And thanks for the ‘follow.’

  5. Alas, the crowds seem to be everywhere that connects with a highway, electricity, water, etc. Lots of ‘rattlesnake’ and ‘bear/mountain lion’ warning signs are good. River/stream crossings cut traffic, and hikes above 10 miles one way can be effective. The biggest thing is avoiding the main tourist/vacation seasons. Go ahead, push the seasonal thing; just be prepared for what you might run into. It can be fun, a challenge- cold weather, snow, rain, hail. It could turn into ‘hell week(s).’ Week days rather than weekends for short trips. In general, 2-3 days from a trailhead makes a difference. But finding that ‘road/trail less traveled’ is the challenge that can make all the difference. Those back-country, washboard roads that destroy front alignments, ball joints tend to cut traffic. Use topos to those out of the way places only the locals (ha) know about. Get down and dirty and have some fun! And when you hit ‘gold,’ don’t blog about it! 😉

  6. No different here is Canada at many of our National Parks and Provincial Parks as well. We like to travel in the off-season, before summer and after school heads back in September. Travelled to Banff National Park in the Rockies in late March of 2015, almost no crowds. Go in the summer and can’t even move around. Try visiting Lake Louise in Banff NP to hike or scramble the mountains surround the lake in July and August, you’ll need to get to parking area well before 8am or you’ll be parking several km down the road. No thanks!

    Not sure what it will be like in 2017 which marks the 150th anniversary of the National Parks system in Canada, which there will be free admission to all National Parks.

    I’m somewhat lucky in that my days off are during the week. That does make it a little less crowded. I do spend a fair amount of time researching to find “those roads less travelled.” Sometimes it works, other times not so much.

    But article, and excellent conversation. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s