“There’s a lion in the road, there’s a demon escaped,
There’s a million dreams gone, there’s a landscape being raped…”
–Bob Dylan “Where Are You Tonight?”
Well, here I am, driving through the most jaw-dropping awesome landscapes that I have yet to encounter in the Lower 48 States. It’s always dusty here in the Southwestern deserts, the Mojave, the Vermillion Cliffs, Death Valley and the empty, really empty and desolate lunar-like landscapes of northern Arizona and southern Utah. Is it really surprising that I feel that something has blown into my eye? I look down and blink. I rub my eyes. Nothing falls into my lap. No particle of pollen, no bit of detritus. Then I realize that it isn’t a grain of something wind-blown. It’s something else entirely.
My view of these sacred vistas is being compromised. Violated. These geologic landforms that have taken hundreds of millions of years to create, sculpt and become perfect are now mere backdrops to the human presence.
Industry On Parade.
I’m about 150 years too late. The 1860’s were the beginnings of the Range Wars. Once, cowboys would drive a thousand head of cattle across state lines, prairies, gulches…the open range…to the meat markets of Kansas City or a dozen other large towns. Then the ranchers came. Is it any wonder that barbed wire was developed around that time? The cowboys became ranch hands. The fences went up and the freedom to move about, ended.
[Fences. Fences everywhere]
I pull to the side of an endless stretch of roadway, the end of which is lost in the infinity of the Great Basins. I want to walk off to a small hill and climb it for a better view. Instead, a few feet from the shoulder of the road is the endless fence. I ignore the shards of broken brown glass from a hundred smashed bottles of Budweiser Lite. When I see green glass, I know they consumed a quality beer from Holland or Germany before they tossed it from the pick-up window.
Okay, some can argue that the fences keep the coyotes from crossing the road. But, I feel it’s more of: “Let’s keep Pat Egan from wandering too far from his Ford” kind of thing. I want to sing “Don’t Fence Me In” but I don’t know all the lyrics. (I never got around to downloading that Roy Rogers CD.)
But litter isn’t my main complaint here. It’s simply that the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen on this trip is obstructed by some ugly sign of human progress. There are power line towers that seem twenty stories high that stretch across the desert and up and over the majestic mountains. Power plants surprise you after you find yourself just recovering from contemplating nature in its most desolate and mystical state.
[What is this for? Why here?]
The excitement and exhilaration of the desert experience is giving away to a depression about violated landscape. Where is the wilderness? Where is the place where the signs of the human presence are absent? And where can I look without getting something in my eye…something blocking out the wondrous void… objects and structures that will take centuries to decay and wither away, until the natural world is the only thing that will dominate a travelers eye?