“Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages…most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy.” -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I did exactly what you said not to do. I didn’t believe you when you referred to Zion National Park as Zion National Parking Lot. When you said national parks were going under, I thought it was the old man in you hating change. When you said park rangers were lazy and misinformed, I thought it was your arrogance.
But it turns out you were right. And Ed, you would be so disappointed if you saw the parks today. Zion National Park is pulling in over 3.2 million people every year, which the park rangers boast about. They’ve packed in the campgrounds so that everyone is no more than 10 feet apart. They’ve set up a shuttle system so the visitors can move through the park like Disney World, getting off at each stop to file in a line up the hiking trails with their ear buds in and iPhones out. They even went so far as to tack up one of your quotes about wilderness to the side of the shuttle, just in case you weren’t insulted enough already.
There is no room to breathe, no time to contemplate, and there most certainly isn’t solitude.
They are attempting to bring in a new line of education to the park called “facilitated dialogue,” which I’m sure you already know about because I could almost feel you rolling over in your grave when they explained it to us during training. But just in case you couldn’t hear well from your sleeping bag buried somewhere under the desert dirt, let me explain. You see, the park rangers have gotten incredibly timid when it comes to dealing with the public. All they care about are their numbers, making sure more people trample through the park every year. Because of this, they don’t want to offend anyone or possibly scare anyone off from coming back to the park. Therefore, instead of teaching the public about evolution, climate change, geology, biology, and all of the other important aspects of the natural world, they want the public to teach themselves so that the park can’t be to blame if there is any disagreement. And so we have to spend our programs asking the public about their “feelings,” instead of teaching them anything useful or relevant to the park.
As you probably know, Utah is full of the religiously conservative, and science makes them uneasy, so Zion National Park is simply not talking about science anymore. We learned how to smile and tell everyone to have a nice day, but we didn’t learn a damn thing about the park itself.
So Ed, after a week of living in a place more crowded than Pittsburgh, spending 8 hours a day sacrificing my beliefs, and feeling all around disappointed, I decided to pack my things and leave.
I promise I’ll be back, and I will find a way to see the desert as you saw it—which means not stepping foot into a national park.
I’m sorry for what they’ve done to your country, Ed. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to change the system. But as soon as I can gather my thoughts, I will return and I will find a way to make an impact.