To cool the dry desert wind.
From the place where the pavement ends.
The place where the pavement ends.
– Adapted from Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends”
How do you describe nothing? How do you describe what silence sounds like, or what darkness looks like? What does stillness feel like? If you have ever experienced these things, you can recall those sensations easily enough, but what about those who never have been that far out in the wild? How do I string together a list of words that adequately describes what the experience is like?
The most difficult part for me is, quite frankly, the struggle between wanting to share this most amazing experience with you (for it is not an experience to merely be held internally, or else I think I might burst) ….. and the fact that part of what made it so amazing is that for the majority of the trip, we were completely undisturbed by the pollution of humanity – light, noise, sound, smell and litter.
To be frank, the selfish part of me does not want you to find or explore the places that we discovered.
The more that the wilderness of the American west is explored, discovered, and shared, the more that it will be humanized, polluted, and spoiled. What made these places so incredible to behold was the complete lack of human intrusion. If you’ve visited a popular national or state park recently, you likely know what I’m talking about – people everywhere, clogging up the best vistas, befouling the landscape with litter, and bleating loudly to one another about a bunch of nonsense.
If I sound a little bitter, it’s because I am – we Americans are especially bad at honoring and respecting the beauty of our country. We are like bulldozers, blindly destroying the natural wilderness that makes our country so spectacular to behold. When we are not careful about the impact that we have on our surroundings, we often unwittingly damage part of what makes these locations so great in the first place – they are some of the few remaining spots that show virtually no human influence.
Part of why the region that we visited remains unspoiled and pure is because it is often extremely stark and intimidating: these places are not going to support human life or tourist intrusions easily or cheaply. These places are far-flung from centers of humanity and often reflect some of the extremes of weather and conditions – unimaginable heat, devastating dryness, or thin air and bitter coldness. In some of the places we slept, even animal life was sparse and challenging to maintain; in others, the opposite was true – we had to take a great deal of care to ensure that we weren’t inviting bears or mountain lions into our camp.
But to us, these challenging conditions were a large part of what made this trip so special. The purity of untouched natural conditions is life-altering to witness: in addition to making you aware of just how widespread and invasive humanity truly is, the impact of seeing what Mother Nature produces on her own hits you like a sledgehammer. When you look out over the vast canvas of the rolling desert mountains or the rustling of life deep in the ponderosa pines and realize that you might well be the first human witnessing this in an extremely long time, possibly ever….. That’s an indescribable feeling to absorb.
That’s why I am so jealously guarding the secret places of this trip: these places are so special because they’re so untouched by human hands. There’s something incredibly disorienting about waking up before sunrise, stretching out, and taking in the first views of the landscape…. and experiencing a complete and absolute silence. Silence so absolute, so enveloping that you have to move a little, make a little bit of noise, do a little something to reassure yourself that you haven’t gone deaf. Silence which can only be found … where the pavement ends.