2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – May 1998

A Blank Spot On The Map

We travel to New Mexico's Aldo Leopold Wilderness to understand the roots of the preservation movement and see just how far we've come.

by: Jeff Rennicke

"Eyooww!" Jim bursts out of the waterfall's spray with a screech like a mountain lion. "Man, that's freezing!" It is 80°F; not yet noon. In the rising heat, the cool water of the falls along Holden Prong feels like pinpricks against our trail-sweaty bodies. He screams again and flails toward shore on the slippery rocks. The skin above the tan lines where his hiking shorts used to be is a rosy shade of pink.

I laugh out loud.

"What's so funny?" Jim asks.

"Not your legs. OK, your legs too, but I was just imagining what 'the Professor' would think if he were watching from up on the trail." Jim turns to look, half-expecting, I think, to find him standing there.

Serious-minded, bespectacled, stern, Aldo Leopold-known as "the Professor" to many of his students-was a brilliant man. He was a teacher, scientist, forester, co-founder of The Wilderness Society, and an author. His textbook on game management spawned an entire field of science. His book A Sand County Almanac has influenced the way generations of hikers and environmentalists look at the world. Almost single-handedly he pushed for the creation of the nation's first designated wilderness area, sparking the movement toward today's National Wilderness Preservation System. He was a man of thought and action, a man who left an indelible imprint on his time and the world around him. He was not a man given to splashing around in waterfalls.

Still, it is easy to imagine him on these trails. He spent 15 years in the Southwest with the Forest Service, later returning on hunting trips. On the surface, it seems exactly the kind of wild country Leopold loved-the peaks of the Black Range rolling through their shades of green and gray unbroken by roads, lights, smokestacks, or clearcuts. There are hints of box canyons, elk tracks in the mud, pine-robed summits shimmering with heat. When he wrote, "Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" he might have been thinking of this very place. In 1987, 100 years after his birth, this blank spot on the map of New Mexico's Gila National Forest was named the Aldo Leopold Wilderness.

I have come here, along with Jim Gorman, Backpacker senior editor, on something of a pilgrimage. I've come to see if Aldo Leopold's dreams have stood the test of time in the wilderness that bears his name. Fifty years after his death I've come to hike some of the same country that he did, to share the same vistas, to ponder the meaning of wilderness in its birthplace.

And I've come to do a little splashing in the pools of the waterfalls, that is if "the Professor" doesn't mind too much.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Falling in the backcountry
Posted On: Aug 20, 2014
Submitted By: Grizzly James
The Political Arena
How ISIS got rich
Posted On: Aug 20, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions