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Taking a Much Needed Breather: Desolation Style

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 15, 1999


Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter. — John Muir

I have never understood people who like to vacation in a major cities. Whether it is Tokyo, Paris, Boston or Bangkok the idea of going someplace with even more people to deal with, seems counter-productive to what I consider the purpose of a vacation to be. According to Webster's Dictionary a vacation is freedom from any activity. This is the part I don't get, because as far as I'm concerned, fighting crowds of tourists is an activity I can stay home to do.

It is pertinent that I get as far away from civilization as possible at least once a year. No telephones, to television, and absolutely no traffic is my idea of a good time. Being able to remove yourself from the grid of modern culture is a vision quest of it's own. Recharging my spirit can only be done in places that have never known cement. Sadly such places are becoming increasingly hard to find.

This year my vacation is being spent rafting the Green River through Utah's Desolation Canyon. Seven days in a cleansing desert heat has a way of peeling off the layers of stress life in Southern California brings. I have found that with a river, nothing is expected of me but care and respect. The cathedrals of Europe might be pretty but they pale in comparison to the awe inspiring majesty of canyons that took millions of years to create,

The best part of all is that once your on the river all your needs are met. A watch is unnecessary, as time is measured by the sun, and the only schedule is the one set by the river. That is a distinctly human characteristic. There is nothing to buy because wilderness doesn't need or want you money. It is my experience that time spent away from the noise of modern life is a gift which lasts longer than T-shirts and other tacky trinkets.

ARTA, the river company that we use, provides a complete vegan diet when asked, the rafts are safe, and the river guides are expert. John Wesley Powell never had it so good. You never need worry about getting a room with a view, because the view is your room. Transportation is never a question, and the only single occupancy vehicle is the inflatable kayak. Have you noticed how you never hear about raft rage.

Eco-tourism has a tendency to be nothing more than an oxymoron, used to lure well-meaning travelers to otherwise run of the mill use and lose vacation experience. No frills, wilderness vacations are not only good for the soul, they are also good for the planet. Green travel should be about losing yourself in nature. Hotels and lodges only remove a person from that which she is trying to experience. Why share an over-chlorinated swimming pool, when you can be floating down a lazy river.

As you read this I am probably near Nutters Hole, which is at the beginning of our 83 mile adventure back in time. Desolation Canyon is relatively young, as far as canyons go, having been carved out of a colorful sedimentary rock which makes up the Tavaputs Plateau, which was formed during the Tertiary geologic period. The geology of Gray Canyon, which is at the end of our trip, was formed in the Cretaceous period. The history of the world is spelled out in these strata formations.

The history of man is also recorded here in the sandstone cliffs. By entering these canyons I have joined an exclusive club whose membership goes back 2000 years. Museums maybe nice, but here I can experience art and history in context to the place they were created, as opposed to a climate controlled building half a continent away. By spending time alone with petroglyphs, ancient cultures are mine to decipher. Better than television, discovery is possible in a way that is unattainable through technology.

So here it is, official notice that I have left the building. When I return I will have a great deal to share. So until then, enjoy the tourists who are flocking to our already crowded communities. While I am sitting on an empty beach, enjoying the peace and quiet, I will be take notes so that you will know that such an experience is still possible.

Henry David Thoreau believed that "in wildness is the preservation of the world." To that I would add, in the preservation of wildness, humans are preserving our connection to the world. This is something that Disney will never be able to do.

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