Leave No Trace

When traveling in the West, you’ll often see that phrase stuck to the back of Subarus and campervans, as well as printed on many of the brochures and maps handed out at national parks, national grasslands and other hiking and camping destinations. While on the road in New Mexico back in May, I was revisiting an old book that I had brought along and I found a new appreciation for the following passage, which takes the concept of “Leave No Trace” to a higher level. The book is God’s Dog: Conversations with Coyote by Webster Kitchell…

   After breakfast we snooped around the ruins, and then we climbed
to the mesa top. We looked down on Pueblo Bonito. We were silent.
Then I spoke what I was feeling.
   “It’s sort of sad and sort of moving to see the ruins people leave.
They worked so hard, and all that’s left are ruins. But because they
worked so hard and left ruins, we remember them. We know at least
they existed. They weren’t completely swept away by the sands of
the desert and the sands of time.”
   “We don’t leave ruins.”
   “And people don’t remember you a thousand years later.”
   “So what? Who wants to be remembered?”
   “We humans can’t imagine not existing. We want to exist at least in
someone’s memory. Or leave a monument that someone will find a
thousand years later and say, ‘Some clever folks lived here.’ ”
   “So what? If you’re not alive to appreciate their wonder at the
monument you left for them, what good does the monument do?”
   “It’s psychological, Coyote, an emotional thing. I admit it isn’t
reasonable. People want to be remembered, so they build monuments.
They have to make their mark on the earth, even if it’s only carving an
aspen. It’s part of being human; the persistence of being.”
   “The point of being alive is to be alive! Why do people waste their
lives constructing a monument so people will remember them when
they’re dead? They could have put that energy into having a good time
or making life better for the human race. Or for coyotes, for that matter,
like you do.”
   “It’s called ego, Coyote. I have been reading some heavy sociology
about the stages people go through. When they’re little, they are child-
like. They don’t have all this ego. They take life as it comes, as you say
they should. Then they get to a stage when they have to differentiate
between self and parents. They start to develop an ego. Which is fun!
It means I am I. I do not exist just as an extension of my mother or my
clan; I exist! And so I want to leave my mark on the earth; maybe on
the Universe.”
   “Maybe ego is what is wrong with humans. Maybe that’s why you
were evicted from the garden way back there.”
   “You could be right. Which may be why in later life, people become
aware that life and goodness and beauty transcend the human ego. In
later years, they get some child-likeness back, but at a more sophisti-
cated level. They see the whole thing and appreciate it and understand
it and don’t have the emotional need to carve their initials in it anymore.
They can just accept it as a wondrous happening, a gift.”
   “Well said!”

~ ~ ~

Quoted text © 1991 by Webster Kitchell

Hiker’s Paradise

Harsh country, yet incredibly beautiful. These are the badlands of the North Dakota’s Little Missouri National Grassland; my first visit to America’s largest National Grassland.

Wandering across the grassy slope in the photo below, I spied three rocky peaks poking above the ridgeline. I decided to hike to the summit on the left…

Like so many other slices of North American wilderness that I’ve been fortunate enough to explore, roaming through this area is a sublime experience. Nothing is more rewarding to me than the opportunity to revel in the silence and solitude of the natural world.

You can follow this Vimeo link to watch a slow rotation atop the butte and enjoy the sweeping view of this amazing landscape. (Video duration is 40 seconds.)

Over one million acres of wild beauty…hiking opportunities to last a lifetime. I’m sure that I’ll return to LMNG again and again.

Grand Beauty

Yes, still on the road. So many miles, so many grasslands, so many amazing vistas and so many hills to climb. Y’all are gonna be sick and tired of butte-climbing stories, photos and videos within the next few weeks. As for me, I’d like to build a house near here.

Little Missouri National Grassland, North Dakota

Free Range

Meanwhile, north of Colorado…
I’ve yet to share any of the photos that I shot in Wyoming back in September. Last autumn’s epic 8448-mile road trip brought me through central Wyoming for the first time; a shame it took me so long to visit the area, as this part of the state is a showcase of natural beauty. I hope to explore this region often in the years ahead.

I was able to spend one sunny day hiking across scenic BLM ground located in the western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. As is the case with most land held by the BLM, only motorized vehicles must remain on marked trails; hikers and those riding horses may roam freely.

Certainly, more than 99% of the miles that I have hiked to date were logged on established trails. But I have been fortunate enough to walk through a handful of places in the world where off-trail travel is permitted, and those experiences bring a deeper level of satisfaction, as did this trek. It was quite special to be so close to these big, beautiful rock formations, and to be able to immerse myself in the silence and solitude to a degree that I could never attain in a crowded national park. In places like these, far away from the visible reminders of civilization, you can really sense the timelessness of the landscape.

I think I was being followed…

Where the Trails Don’t Go

The opportunity to roam freely in the wilderness is, unfortunately, a rare occurrence is this country. One is usually relegated to established trails in established parks, and to sharing those trails with other visitors. That takes a lot of the “wild” out of the experience. But once in a while, I get lucky enough to meet a landowner who will let me wander across his property to enjoy the unspoiled scenery and genuine silence. That happened this week in eastern Montana. Here are a few images from that excursion…

I love it when the evening sunlight finds that one special pine cone…