The United States established Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872.  This was the first time in human history that a country set aside a large block of land “for public use, resort, and recreation” that “shall be inalienable for all time.”  This single governmental act set off a slow wave across the globe of natural land conservation that continues today.  This act showed humility: that man could place the needs of future generations above his own immediate needs and desires.

The irony is that the national park may never have been established if it weren’t for human greed and desire for profit.  As noted in Wikipedia, “It took the combined effort and interest of conservationists, politicians and especially businesses—namely, the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose route through Montana would greatly benefit by the creation of this new tourist attraction—to ensure the passage of that landmark enabling legislation by the United States Congress to create Yellowstone National Park.  Theodore Roosevelt, already an active campaigner and so influential as good stump speakers were highly necessary in the pre-telecommunications era, was highly influential in convincing fellow Republicans and big business to back the bill.”

All’s well that ends well, right?

The Wilderness Act

Then in 1964, the U.S. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed The Wilderness Act to protect nearly 9 million acres of federal land.  Today there are 107.5 million acres of federal wilderness in 44 states and Puerto Rico, protecting 4.82% of the United States.  The act defined wilderness in simple, almost poetic terms:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act goes even further than the National Park by prohibiting ALL human development and improvements, including buildings and roads.  Hence, there is some opposition today against wilderness areas, especially by energy companies that wish to exploit its resources, and outdoor recreationalists who wish to hunt or drive off-road vehicles on the large expanses of land.  Does the idea of preserving land in its almost-natural state outweigh the needs of humans to power their world and enjoy their ATVs?  Only time will tell.


Maricopa Sign

Today we hiked in the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, which is 63,200 acres of rugged mountains, harsh desert, and Saguaro cacti. 


North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness in the Sonoran Desert National Monument

It’s a forbidding land, but also incredibly beautiful and peaceful.  This was one of our quietest hikes ever.  We didn’t see a single person on our 4-hour, 6-mile hike until the last minute when we met two hikers, who were the sole occupants of the nearby campground. 

Walking across this vast desert in its pristine natural state, with the only sign of humanity being ourselves and the trail beneath our feet, brings incredible awe to the person who is willing to open their heart and mind to it.

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