Increasingly, land is parceled off and designated as “Wilderness.” What does this perhaps-overused term mean to the modern adventurer? A bridge over the gap between recreation and conservation is in order.
Let’s take our imaginary Sprinter vans to the trad climbing hotspot Indian Creek, Utah. Let’s go to Dugout Ranch, nestled at the base of those sandstone cliffs. The sagebrush between the dry grass and rust-red rock shimmers in the stifling desert heat. Cattle move slowly, chewing lazily, ambivalent toward our complaints about the climate. The shade of the cottonwoods provides little relief. We walk through the dusty land in a daze until we come to the home of ranch owner Heidi Redd. In this instance, I visited the creek as a researcher for the State of the Rockies Project and had the opportunity to interview Heidi on the topic of large-scale landscape conservation.
“It used to be that if we saw car lights driving down the road, we knew they were visiting us [at the Ranch],” Heidi tells us. “There was nowhere else to go.” She has written her stories onto this landscape and has witnessed the changes it has endured.
“It is easy to remember a time, 50 years ago, when you never saw a soul, and it was easy to think of it as all yours. You were the only one. Then, boom, the park.” Heidi refers to Canyonlands, established in 1964, the same year Congress passed the Wilderness Act.
In 1970, a paved road to the park cut through Dugout Ranch’s property – the same paved road we climbers drive to access those beautiful sandstone splitter cracks. “If you live on the land,” she says, “you see slow changes happening. You know what’s going on.” As Heidi speaks, I pick out the hum of car tires on asphalt underneath the cattle’s insistent groans. “Wilderness,” Heidi says with a small laugh. “I guess that’s what everything used to be. Now, I guess it’s just over there-” she points toward Canyonlands.
By defining Wilderness as removed from humans, legislation fences out anyone who wishes to live off the land. Is this fencing a necessary move to save landscapes from today’s bustling world? Are there alternatives?