Hovercraft Hiking?

The National Park Service does a great job of providing on-site housing for their seasonal volunteers and employees. Here at Arches, my roommates and I share a beautiful house that is surrounded by giant red rock cliffs and includes a backyard that features an array of desert life including our own juniper tree and an adorable rabbit that we’ve affectionately dubbed Marcel. It has become a morning ritual to rise early, sip a steaming cup of coffee on the deck, and enjoy a few peaceful moments before the day kicks in. Sounds pretty perfect, right?

I ask that you not take what I’m about to say as an ungrateful complaint, but rather an observation based on personal experience: houses suck. They suck in a lot of loud air into the swamp cooler on otherwise peaceful mornings, they suck up all the natural sights and sounds of the real world when we lock ourselves inside of them, and they suck the life out of you when you sit on a couch in front of a blaring television instead of soaking in the sunlight. As any sane person would be, I was initially grateful for the shelter from the brutal heat and slept much better as an individual with a serious fear of snakes knowing that there was a pretty secure barrier between me and the creepy crawly slithery things outside. But as the weeks have gone on, my feelings towards this house have changed. Why?<p>I lived in a tent for two summers. It was the best sleep I ever got, the most crisp mornings of rolling out of a warm sleeping bag and stepping outside in bare feet, and it was the scent of pine trees and gentle breezes that lulled me to sleep every night. It was living in my place of work… a reality that contrasts my current situation where I realize that I am not so much living in Arches National Park as I am living on it, and, consequentially, above it.<p>This brings me to a conversation that I had with an aspiring Junior Ranger after one of my guided walks. I always conclude these walks with an invitation for people to consider what this place might look like in the future, considering the fact that two hundred years ago we could have never crossed the continent in a few hours like we can today, and just sixty years ago the space that is now Arches National Park didn’t even have a paved road through it. A young boy politely raised his hand and said “I think in fifty years, we’ll be able to rent hovercrafts here. That way, we won’t have to step on any plants and we don’t have to hike when it’s so hot.” The entire group erupted in laughter at this response, but later as I thought about it, how much of a joke is it?

First, yes, we might soon have the technology to do something like that. But furthermore, the generation that will be in charge of making the decisions about how we interact with our National Parks in 50 years are kids who own iPhones by their fifth birthdays, and, consequentially, who are growing up in a world of instant gratification and constant communication that often leaves one with little time to have the actual experiences that are ostensibly the subjects this ceaseless conversation. What if our solution to not damaging wildlife is simply to hover over it, to outsmart it, and to make it easier on humans to see things without letting our feet do what they were made to do? Uh oh.<p>I am not trying to criticize anyone’s good intentions or judge people’s actions. To demonstrate my own tendencies as part of the behaviors I’m questioning, the frequency with which I catch myself doing things just for the sake of a picture grosses me out, for I too am a product of my own consumer-based, facebook-loving generation. But let’s think about this a little bit. Like it or not, we are a population that has become extremely desensitized to what nature is. Even worse, we seem to posses this attitude that we’re above nature: we can conquer it, harness its energy, and just pick out the parts that we like or think we need (like paving a road through a desert that leads to the prettiest spots for thousands of people each day to come take the same pictures…).

I’ll conclude with a quote from someone far more knowledgeable and influential than I. Aldo Leopold, in Wildlife in American Culture, wrote “Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relation with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing thin. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.” He wrote this in 1941… again, uh oh.<p>It’s easy to look at our environmental situation and insensitive behaviors and say hey, it may not be right but that’s just the way things are. It is a free country, people can act how they want, everyone has the right to own whatever they want… the list goes on and on. But one thing I’m learning is that things are the way things are because we say things like “that’s just the way things are.” If you are reading this, you must have similar ties to this place or ones like it. What are your thoughts on the topic? Thank you so much for reading, now let’s get off our computers and go play outside!