A few nights ago, we went to a ranger program at Zion about its wilderness areas. We left wondering what Edward Abbey would have said at one of these ranger programs. So we asked him.
Hi, my name’s Edward Abbey. I was born in the east, fought in the second world war, and once worked as a ranger at Arches National Park. I’ve written a handful of books on the west, and for whatever reason, that makes me still eligible to give these talks. But enough about me, let’s talk about Zion.
Zion National Park is the crown jewel of the National Park Service. Quite simply, it’s the best-managed, best run, best laid-out National Park in America. Why? Well, it has to be, for one thing, it gets nearly 3 million visitors per year. It gets busy. But the number-one-reason is because you can’t drive in it, because you lazy bums have to get out of your cars to experience it. You can’t just drive through it, pulling over for pictures, stopping traffic, veering into ditches and trees, and fighting over parking spots. There’s none of that here thanks to the shuttle system.
Now, I don’t deserve all the credit, but that was my idea. In my book, Desert Solitaire, I suggested closing ALL National Parks to automotive traffic. I said we should put parking lots at the entrances and lend everyone bicycles to ride through the park. There’d be vans to carry luggage to the lodges and to transport the elderly and the infirm, but all other traffic would be pedal-powered. Of course, I didn’t think people would bicycle on the trails, but that’s turned into quite the pastime. Shuttles, like the one you’ll ride through Zion, make a bit more sense now, and they’re wonderfully effective.
Congestion is gone. You don’t hear road noise hiking through the canyon. It’s peaceful. It’s how it should be. Now, some of you will complain, but I don’t want to hear it. The shuttles are amazing — they take 3 million visitors every year and focus their impact on only a handful of acres. We’ve got 146,000 acres here, and you can have them all to yourself if you’re willing to hike. Most of you won’t be willing.
Want to get away from the crowds in Zion? Avoid Angels Landing, the Emerald Pools, and the Narrows. Most people don’t go much beyond those three hikes. A couple will visit the Hidden Valley. A few will hike the West Rim Trail. You’d be surprised how many people don’t go much farther than the shuttle stops. Most seem to fill up on photos during the ride and can barely get their cameras away from their faces long enough to actually experience the place, but that’s why the shuttles are so perfect. Contain the crazies, I say. And the lazies.
Now, Zion is not without its faults. Springdale isn’t exactly the perfect town, but you can get nearly everything you’d ever need in town. Just watch out for the beer prices. Get your beer at the gas station — don’t go to the local market. Or better yet, get it in Hurricane, pronounced Her-ACK-en in the local dialect. To remember the pronunciation, just think: “I like Hurricane; she’s got nice tits.” Of course, it’ll still be 3.2, but at least it’s cheap in Hurricane. If you want a deal in Springdale, go to the State Liquor Store where the state controls the prices. Buy some whiskey or get a jug of Margaritas. Don’t waste your time with 3.2 beer. That stuff will wear out your kidneys faster than your liver.
As I was saying, I don’t do the popular trails anymore. A woman once asked me, she was on her way towards Hidden Valley, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth it? “Lady,” I said, “if you have to ask, it isn’t. Why don’t you just go on back to Ohio and relax in front of the television?” But she was probably right, most of the popular trails aren’t worth it. They’re too busy. Angels Landing is a cattle call. The trail is shoulder-to-shoulder in the summer. Is it worth lining up behind a bunch of other tourists taking the same trail, heading the same direction, waiting for a gap while those coming down get through? Not at all. If you want the Angels Landing view without the Angels Landing crowd, take the West Rim trail north and after about a quarter-mile, veer off the trail and you’ll have cliff-side seats to a vista higher and quieter all to yourself. Or become a ranger and put up a couple “trail closed” signs like we used to do.
Get away from the crowds and you might even be able to hear the nothingness, the solitude, but that’s not the motive behind most visitors — they want to do all the hikes their friends have heard about. They want to be able to tell their friends they climbed the big rock, past where people have died. They don’t care about the peace or the quiet, they only care about the bragging rights. Let them have the trail to themselves, all of them. And there are a lot of them.
We get a couple lucky breaks on Angels Landing every-so-often, but we could use a few more flash floods in the Narrows and a couple more mountain lions on the prowl. We’ve got to shake things up a bit, get people to open their eyes, get them to see the beauty in the danger, keep them on their toes. But for the comatose zombies that typically visit, at least they’re contained in the shuttle. And if you don’t like the shuttle, there’s a lot of park beyond its route. It’s your park, after all, go explore it.