“Wilderness Experienced” is our shared stories and musings about recent experiences in our nation’s Wildernesses. Stories can focus on the virtues of Wilderness, including the opportunity for solitude, discovery, spiritual renewal, physical challenge, wildlife viewing, and more, or things you found troubling, that just didn’t seem right in Wilderness and represent the challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.
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by Howie Wolke
In late October, Marilyn and I headed south for a 226 mile 21-day float trip down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. There were four of us, in two rafts. For most of the 20,000 or so folks who annually float the Colorado, the scenery and numerous challenging rapids are big attractions. But for Marilyn and me, the big draw was the vast desert wilderness that the river punctuates. Although I hadn’t rowed challenging whitewater in nearly two decades, we all made it through the rapids upright, though I had a few close calls.
Wilderness. The Big Outside (Foreman and Wolke, Revised Edition 1992) inventoried the Grand Canyon wildland complex at 2,700,000 acres of roadless country in one unbroken block, the fourth largest such area in the lower 48 states. The 2.7 million acre wildland includes over a million roadless acres within Grand Canyon National Park, but also a number of contiguous national forest and BLM roadless areas and designated wildernesses. There are also big contiguous roadless areas on three Indian reservations and in the “Lake” Meade National Recreation area. Nowhere else in the U.S. south of Alaska can one float over 200 winding river miles without crossing a road or encountering civilization. So, at least here, big wilderness is unblemished….or so it would seem.
By Paul Willis
There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. —René Daumal, Mount Analogue
Sitting here, high on the shoulder of a peak in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, I am looking down at a grassy swale where I startled a herd of eleven mule deer. From this height they are now too small to be seen, but they kept their ground as I detoured around them on scree and talus, not wanting to disturb their pasture. And looking down in the other direction, a blood-red canyon drops away to the round expanse of an alkali lake, from this vantage point its two or three islands an obvious continuation of a series of craters to the south. And, looking up, the summit of the mountain I'm on rises gently, inviting me to visit before thunderheads build and explode, just as they did yesterday on my way down another summit. Such a relief to be lost in sky, no other purpose beyond placing the next boot, the next hoof.
By Ned Vasquez
For many years, dating back even to my childhood, I have dreamed of spending time in the Alaskan wilderness. In August, 2019 this dream became a reality when my middle daughter and I spent 9 days rafting the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Our trip was organized through a guiding company based in Fairbanks. Our group consisted of 6 clients and 2 guides and we were fortunate to have a highly compatible group. The guiding company did an excellent job of orienting us to the nature of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ensured that we were as minimally impactful as possible.
By Frank Keim
Old days drift slowly into new days
and the white eye of the Arctic sun rolls
bright across the night,
as we trek
up the Hulahula River,
named more than a century ago
by Hawaiian whalers stranded
on an ocean cold and frozen
before its time.
By Cathy Brandt
Due to life-long arthritis and now a bit of the "A" word (age), I can't hike very deep into wilderness areas. However, when I do I'm looking to experience solitude—to get away from masses of people and their litter, cell phones, dogs barking, and aircraft noise. It's very sad that some people have never been away from these distractions and never know what they're missing.
We all deserve wild solitude and I feel human beings actually need it. In the wild all of our senses experience fresh cues, and our lungs take in more clean air and oxygen. For some of us, it can also be a very emotional experience. A few tears may be shed at the sight of a wondrous peak, or a gurgling moss-lined creek. Wild places are my church, and many would agree with me on that!
By Scott Crain
The Juniper Dunes Wilderness area is a 7000-acre part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, located in southeastern Washington State. It lies just a few miles north of what used to be a quiet part of the state, now exploding with population and development. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation lies a few miles to the southwest, one of the most polluted nuclear waste sites in the country. Just outside the barbed wire fence that surrounds Juniper Dunes lies an off-road vehicle area promoted by the Bureau of Land Management for ORVs and other motorized activities.
I was born and raised a few miles south in Pasco. When I was a kid, the Dunes, as we called them, were a place to go target shooting, driving four wheelers, and doing all sorts of other things that our parents didn't want to know about. I've moved on, but those activities continue unabated right up to the wilderness boundary.
By Kevin Proescholdt
In August, my family and I enjoyed our second canoe trip of the summer in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) of northeastern Minnesota. The 1.1 million-acre BWCAW is a lakeland wilderness with over 1,000 lakes connected by rivers, streams and portage trails. It is part of Superior National Forest and is one of the most visited (if not the most visited) Wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
We enjoyed five days of paddling, portaging, camping, swimming, fishing, and laughing. But we did have to contend with strong winds almost the entire trip, including becoming windbound overnight at a point of land where the strong west winds howled unimpeded along many miles of open lake.
By Jessica Howell-Edwards
Cumberland Island Wilderness is part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore in southern Georgia, administered by the National Park Service (NPS). It was previously sanctioned as a UN Biosphere Reserve, and is located just miles from Kings Bay Naval Base and also nuclear warhead storage.
I firmly believe that all Wilderness experiences have the potential to be transformative in our lives, but Cumberland Island Wilderness offers a complex variation of ecosystems that only a southeastern barrier island can: towering sand dunes, freshwater lakes, maritime forest, salt marshes, and deserted beaches.
By René Voss
So now I know why people came up with the idea of aerial spraying DDT to kill pesky bugs ... like the thousands of mosquitoes that attacked me over the summer solstice in the Emigrant Wilderness. Relentless beasts!
As I was walking out of the Wilderness I struck an interesting conversation with a fellow hiker who was local and had been visiting the Emigrant Wilderness for over 50 years. He said he had seen many changes since he first started hiking there as a kid. His name was Larry. I know this because he was wearing a "Larry" belt buckle ... local for sure.
By Brett Haverstick
I just returned from a recent backpacking trip into one of our nation’s first Wilderness areas, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of north central Idaho and western Montana. It was a typical June trip in the Northern Rockies with thunder, lightning, rain, hail, clouds, and sun. The forests were greening up, the rivers and creeks flowing at a strong clip, and the birds were both active in flight and song. My personal trip diary reflected that I observed bald eagles, osprey, red-tailed hawks, ravens, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, western tanagers, Canada geese, common mergansers, and more.