I slept under the stars–only a sleeping pad between me and the dirt. Cowboy camping. It was so dark, quiet, and peaceful out there in the desert. I wish it were possible to send that moment to you, so you could experience it for yourself. The sky was darker than I’ve ever seen, but the stars were bright enough to remind me that I’m never alone. And that’s solitude. I let me mind drift in and out of consciousness taking me places and reminding me of things that expanded my horizons, until sleep subtly took me away to that place that so often eludes me.
And then I awoke abruptly to bright lights and two silhouette figures approaching where I slept. Out of instinct I grabbed my knife and snapped it open as I hopped up out of the bag prepared to do whatever needed to be done. I got sucker stabbed through the roof of the mouth once, 11 years ago, and I think it was this same type of reaction that saved my ass then, but this time it almost got me riddled with bullet holes by two sheriffs. The dust settled quickly as we all wised up to the situation.
I asked the sheriffs what was so different about tonight than any of the other nights I’d spent out in this area. They explained that it’s never really been legal to camp in section 6, but there was an unspoken agreement with climbers who camped in the area because they respected it and went unnoticed. It went on that way for years, but recently as climbing has gained popularity more people caught on and used the area. A place with mandatory year round fire restrictions, and mandatory pack out policies, the newer crowds didn’t respect it.
On Sunday my friend who I was climbing with sent me a link to an article addressing the recent enforcement and shutdown of Section 6 at Onaga Trail. They cited open fires, lots of noise, traffic throughout the night, human excrement everywhere, trash, and destroyed vegetation. When I read the article I felt nothing less of disgust for the outdoor community. I’m glad they kicked me out. I hope they shut and lock the gate.
It makes me think, as the outdoor industry assumes pop culture status and continues to grow, that we will have to decide, sooner than we may think, whether we protect the lands we love so much from ourselves by closing them off to recreational use, or fight to keep them open so we, the outdoor recreation community, can destroy them for our pleasure.
There is a critical mass in these ecosystems, and humans have become an invasive species on this planet. Further complicating the issue of our future and sustaining the planets future is our pathetic need to rely on contraptions and luxury. It’s bad enough having hundreds of thousands of tourists entering our national parks each day, but it’s a whole different dilemma when they bring half the things they own with them. Why did you even leave the house?
Humans are reaching a critical mass and the open spaces on the planet are shrinking. The open spaces that are not being harvested for resources are now being developed for our pleasure, but there are far too many of us. The solution will all come down to access. Will they start creating quotas in the parks, and shuttling people in and out to cut down traffic? Will the outdoor industry continue to fight for access despite the undeniable consequences on the environment?
I love the wilderness. I love the dark nights, and the soul cleansing quiet. I love to climb, and I love to walk for miles into the desert before setting my sleeping pad down in the dirt and sleeping under the stars. I pack my shit out with me, and I don’t destroy things. I can’t say the same of my peers. Unfortunately, we are a community, and when a large portion of that community cannot adhere to the ethical standards and respect the environment, then our community is not responsible enough to enjoy those places.
Step it the fuck up, because if you don’t they’ll kick our asses out of the National Parks.