Pockets of Paradise

By McManus, Reed | Sierra, September-October 1997 | Go to article overview

Pockets of Paradise


McManus, Reed, Sierra


After crisscrossing the country in search of wide open spaces this summer, many Americans may be wondering where all their wilderness went. Minivan gridlock clogs Great Smoky Mountains National Park, even day visitors to Yosemite may soon need reservations, and 12,000 people a day descend upon the Grand Canyon seeking one of America's grandest natural experiences. Maybe the folks at Fleetwood Enterprises, a recreational-vehicle manufacturer in Milwaukee, have it right: these days "wilderness" can be just the name you slap on the back of a 30-foot travel trailer, a quaint image to ponder as you motor across the continent to invoke your very own Manifold Destiny.

Fortunately, we've got a law that says wilderness is something else entirely The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor." The law's passage is one of those too-rare instances where car- and convenience-crazy Americans have shown themselves willing to take a backseat to the world around them and just enjoy the view.

While there are plenty of examples of designated wilderness areas that are being loved to death (see "Way to Go," page 22) and far too many cases where wilderness foes are blocking efforts to protect any more pristine lands, the National Wilderness Preservation System remains a bulwark against paving from sea to shining sea. Of 261 ecosystems in the United States, 157 are represented in a wilderness system that comprises 106 million acres, 5 percent of the country. Without these protected areas, efforts to preserve (and even understand) habitats and species would be virtually impossible. For Americans wondering what their continent was like before so much of it was plowed, paved, and plundered, wilderness is not just a haven but a history lesson.

What follows is a glimpse of some of the lesser-known wilderness areas across the United States. They're not big names, but they don't attract big crowds, either. What they offer is a chance to find solitude in landscapes that are primitive and timeless. Visit and enjoy them, or just be grateful knowing that they're there.

Exploring an Oregon Gem

For years, wags have suggested that the only tree the U.S. Forest Service was willing to leave standing was the one on its official logo, and last year their fears were nearly confirmed. The salvage logging rider attached to a federal budget bill in 1995 allowed timber companies to run rampant through forests that environmentalists had worked for years to protect. Yet in the middle of the maelstrom, retiring Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) steered an altogether different sort of rider through the legislative process, managing to protect the largest unlogged watershed in western Oregon as the Opal Creek Wilderness. (Environmentalists wish that this friend of the timber industry had not waited until the eve of his retirement to see the value of standing trees.) The new 13,000-acre wilderness includes four hiking trails, gushing waterfalls, Opal Pool, and long-lived hemlock, Douglas fir, and Pacific yew. …

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