Abbey, and His Fear of Progress
The day that the gray jeep with the U.S. Government decal and "Bureau of Public Roads" on it, Edward Abbey knew that progress had arrived. He had foreseen it, watching other parks like his, fall in the face of progress. He knew that hordes of people and their "machines" would come (Abbey 50-51). Most people see progress as a good thing. Abbey proclaims. "I would rather take my chances in a thermonuclear war than live in such a world (Abbey 60)."
"Prog-ress n. forward motion or advance to a higher goal; an advance; steady improvement (Webster's)." Is progress really all of that? How can you improve on mother nature? Progress actually detracts from the parks natural beauty. Cars, litter, and vandalism can all be attributed to "progress." In this frame of thinking "progress" kind of contradicts it's self.
The most detrimental aspect of progress is the automobile. "'Parks are for people' is the public-relations slogan, which decoded means that the parks are for people-in -automobiles." People come streaming in, driving their cars. They are in a hurry because they are trying to see as many parks as possible in their short vacation time. They have to deal with things such as: car troubles, traffic, hotel rooms, other visitors pushing them onward, their bored children, and the long trip home in a flood of cars. Many of them take tons of pictures, possibly so that they can actually enjoy the park without all of the hassles (Abbey 58). Without leaving their cars they will never actually experience the beauty and wonderment of the parks. They will only find the stress and chaos that they sought to leave at home (Abbey 59).
There is a minority though, that prefers to be able to get away from the modern world completely, and travel throughout the parks on foot, bicycle, or horse. With these vehicles they can travel on quiet trails that are impassable by automobiles. These trails will lead them to places where progress has yet to hit. They can sleep in the open, breath the fresh air, and hear nothing but mother nature herself. They will never get pushed out of the way buy the rush of other tourists, cramming to catch a glimpse of the sights (Abbey 59). This is what I call anti-progress.
Anti-progress is what progress seeks desperately to destroy. The Developers (progress seekers) want the entire park to be accessible to both man and his machines(Abbey 55). This means the those nice quiet trails that that hikers, bikers, and horse riders so enjoy have to be destroyed by paving them with black asphalt. And along with the road comes the steady stream on noisy, smelly, cars. Abbey's park, Arches National Monument, was accessible via "traversing a long, dusty, dirt road" when he wrote about it. It is now a paved road that carries thousands a year (Little 34). This must be stopped for the sake of all people involved or the park setting will be the same as the urban environment.
Anti-progress still thrives in some parks. Does that mean that some people will not got here just because their car won't fit? Probably, but does it mean that no one but those who are young, athletic and fit for the trails go there? No, people of all ages, and athletic ability enjoy these parks, these are people who refuse "to live always like sardines in a can." Thousands and thousands of people raft down the rivers, ride into the Grand Canyon on mules, and hike and climb various mountain ranges (Abbey 55-56). More people should follow their lead and leave their cars behind to experience the outdoors.
Abbey has thought up a good, reasonable solution that would bring the outdoors back to the outdoors. His plan is simple, it has three steps. Although his plan may seem a bit drastic, a plan like this is needed. The first step of his plan is to keep all motorized vehicles out of the park. The second, stop building roads. The third and final step is to set the park rangers to work.
For the first step, a giant parking lot would be constructed about ten miles away from the park. This will require people to find other means of transportation, such as feet, bike, or horses to get there. The best plan would be for the government to provide bikes to the people who don't have one, to use for free. Their necessities: tent, food, clothes, etc. will be transported to their campsite free of charge. Those who are not able to ride a bike would also be shuttled to the campgrounds. In the camp ground there would be a few stores that would supply things that are forgotten, or ran out (Abbey 60).
The second step kind of falls into place after the first one is implemented. The money saved by not making anymore roads could be put into enacting the plan as a whole. Improving the trail systems would also be a good candidate for some more money. The existing roads would be used by the bikes, and the support vehicles. The size of the park will have seemed to have increased overnight, because of the lack of vehicles to carry you across them in under an hour. A two week vacation can be had, and enjoyed in one park; instead of jumping from park to park (Abbey 62-63).
The final step is to make leaders out of the park rangers. This will be required once the people start hiking the trails; someone needs to keep them from getting lost, killed, maimed, etc. The people could also use a "tour guide," one to teach them the history of the land, making the trip all the more interesting. Who better to do this then the park rangers (Abbey 63-64)?
There will of course be people who oppose the idea saying that people just won't leave the luxury of their own cars. Yes, there are a lot of Americans who would not be up to the challenge, but it might be surprising how many people are lured to the added adventure of actually being outdoors. The amount of people might even be larger than when the parks are flooded with cars (Abbey 64).
Abbey was hopeful when he summed it up with a billboard that would be posted at the parks in the future, it reads as follows (65-66):
HOWDY FOLKS. WELCOME. THIS IS YOUR NATIONAL PARK, ESTABLISHED FOR THE PLEASURE OF YOU AND ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. PARK YOUR CAR, JEEP, TRUCK, TANK, MOTORBIKE, SNOWMOBILE, JETBOAT, AIRBOAT, SUBMARINE, AIRPLANE, JETPLANE, HELICOPTER, HOVERCRAFT, WINGED MOTORCYCLE, ROCKETSHIP, OR ANY OTHER CONCEIVABLE TYPE OF MOTORIZED VEHICLE IN THE WORLD'S BIGGEST PARKINGLOT BEHIND THE COMFORT STATION IMMEDIATELY TO YOUR REAR. GET OUT OF YOUR MOTORIZED VEHICLE, GET ON YOUR HORSE, MULE, BICYCLE OR FEET, AND COME ON IN.
ENJOY YOURSELVES. THIS HERE PARK IS FOR people.
The above plan probably will never happen, but it would save the parks system from a fate worse than death. The parks should be regarded as more than just a roadside tourist trap. Abbey asked, "Are men no better than sheep or cattle, that they must live always in view of on another in order to feel a sense of safety?" Abbey believes that the answer is "no (Abbey 68)," I tend to agree, people need to get away from the hustle and bustle of their lives. The national parks system is a great way to get away. If we continue to allow our parks to be desecrated by progress our parks system will be just as bad as what you are trying to leave.
Abbey strongly believed in his cause. He would also get furious at the destruction of mother nature; he spoke out against this in his lectures and essays. James Bishop wrote in his book The Monkey Wrench Gang (Little 35).
Because of Abbey's madcap but deadly serious novel, people of all ages can never again look the same way at massive freeway systems where desert and farmland used to be; at once-lush forests now clear-cut into lunar landscapes-or at huge dams on once-free rivers.
Abbey loved the land so much that he wanted to be buried under a rock, in a sleeping bag, in the middle of the desert (Sandlin 11). Carved into the rock reads (Little 35):
Little, Charles E. "Books for the Wilderness." Wilderness. Summer 1994: 34-35.
Sandlin, Tim. "Nightmare Abbey." The New York Times Book Review. 1994, December
Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus. 1993. Landoll, Inc.