50 Years of American Wilderness
Is wilderness in our nature or are we naturally wild?
It was just my dog and I, but somehow we weren’t alone. We were in the wilderness.
I went to a ranger talk last night about the anniversary of the wilderness act that was passed in 1964. We took the ranger’s advice and found Bayview trail over by Emerald Bay here in Lake Tahoe. I didn’t realize how important it was in protecting our natural areas, but without it, who knows what might be lurking around the next bend … condos, restaurants, plenty of parking! The next bend today only had more bends, whispering trees, and cool mountain lakes. We kept going.
We had gotten a pretty early start and a good thing as it started steep and fast. A pair of women came down with huge packs. They had spent two nights near Granite Lake.
“Did you see any bears?” I asked.
“We hung our food, but we were pretty paranoid!” she smiled, but with a hint of true fear. “Granite Lake is shallow and warm, it’s a great swim for you and your pup.” She actually said pup, as if it were a seal. “Enjoy your day,” she said as if she already knew that I would.
A runner came down quickly with only shorts and plugged into his music. He did stop to say that the peak was worth the hike as the views were so vast you could see the other side of the valleys. Those were the only three people I’d see for the next few hours.
Granite Lake was a welcome stop: no more steep switchbacks and plenty of water for pooch to drink. We shared a rice cake, sat for a while to take in the stillness, but I wanted to move on to get to the peak before it got too hot. Above Granite Lake was an outlook that gave a 180-degree view of a small lake, granite cliffs, trees, valleys, clouds and sky. I shared the view with a chipmunk and only the travelers who had come before me and who would come after me. The view would have been the same 100, 1,000, and maybe 1,000,000 years ago. I can’t fathom such numbers. I can’t fathom such time.
We walked along and found another peak that had a view on two small lakes way down below. They looked far and we had been hiking for at least two hours already. I stopped and tried to figure out where I was, but I knew it already: I was in the middle of wilderness, the wild, the backcountry, the forest, the mountains, nature as only a few know it. How many people go off the beaten path? Was I off the path? I was still following something of a narrow trail. But we were far away from WiFi, pavement, and voices.
If it’s your first time, are you at least partly a pioneer?
I had a deep urge to spend the night, to spend many nights. I made a vow to come back with my boys and do just that. I don’t know the details, I don’t know how to pack and how to prepare, but I knew I needed to come back. It wasn’t such a spectacular view like Half Dome in Yosemite but there was something about being there alone with my dog, a pioneer at least in my own mind. If it was my first time, does that count at least a few points as pioneering?
I’m admittedly a chicken when it comes to wild animals and … darkness, but I could overcome those fears and I will. Thousands of people overnight camp in Desolation Wilderness and I haven’t heard of bear maulings, although maybe I don’t read the right papers. I have to get beyond the day hikes and take it to the next level and spend the night with nature. Sure, car camping, but there’s something about hiking in on your own. Maybe there are ranger-led groups I could join. I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to somehow fit in, but snug like a blanket. It was all its own world and I was just a visitor. By definition, as I learned last night, we are only visitors in wilderness.
As I was walking down, I saw an older woman and her granddaughter heading up, backpacks full of overnight gear. I was envious as all get out. I was going the wrong way, I was heading out of wilderness and back to civilization. Just a single day surrounded by natural beauty and wild and it was as if I had been away a week. The grandmother and her granddaughter were heading up to adventure, the unknown, the wild.
Long live the wilderness act. Happy birthday, wilderness.