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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


Following In The Footsteps

Nine hikes as big as the hearts of their namesake wilderness visionaries.

Aldo Leopold was just one of the wilderness pioneers who helped blaze the way in the name of conservation. Here are a few places where you can follow the bootprints of other conservation heroes deep into the wildlands that bear their names.

William O. Douglas Wilderness, Washington

Freedom is a right Justice William O. Douglas held close to heart. Even the freedom to nearly meet your death in the wilds. In his book Of Men and Mountains, he writes, "We had accomplished the impossible...survived terrible ordeals...faced death down; and because of our encounter with it, we had come to value life more." Born in 1898 in Minnesota, Douglas received a law degree from Columbia University and taught at Yale before being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Roosevelt. From the bench, and in the many books he would write, he continued to stand on the side of freedom and the freedom wild places represent. "Roadless areas are one pledge to freedom," he wrote in My Wilderness. That pledge is kept today in the 168,000-acre William O. Douglas Wilderness.

On the trail: "Discovery is adventure," Douglas wrote, and you will find a lot to discover on the 26.7-mile, one-way hike along the American Ridge. Despite its somewhat short length, it is a good, four- to five-day trip with enough elevation gain and loss to, as the guidebook says, "make your legs feel like canned hams." All of that up and down does have its advantages, such as the view from the lookout atop 6,473-foot Goat Peak. If your "hams" have enough left in them, you can piece together longer loop hikes by combining this trail with others that share nearby trailheads.

Contact: Wenatchee National Forest, Naches Ranger District, 10061 Highway 12, Naches, WA 98937; (509) 653-2205.

Trail guide: Pacific Northwest Hiking, by Ron C. Judd and Dan Nelson. Foghorn Press, 340 Bodega Ave., Petaluma, CA 94952; (800) 364-4676; $20.95.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

John Muir called the Sierra the "Range of Light," but it was photographer Ansel Adams who captured that light on film. Adams caught all the drama and exquisite beauty of wild places as far flung as Alaska's Denali, Acadia National Park in Maine, the Maroon Bells in Colorado, and the sand dunes of Death Valley, California. But as with all artists, his best work would spring from his soul and his soul was in the Sierra. His photos were not only works of art but a powerful weapon in the fight for environmental causes. Articulate, energetic, passionate, Adams worked closely with the Sierra Club, lobbied politicians with the power of his words and photographs, and brought the beauty of nature into homes all over the world though his books and prints. His work and life was the inspiration for many of the finest photographers working today. With every click of their shutters, Ansel Adams is remembered.

On the trail: Flower-filled meadows with blossoms dancing in the breeze, high mountain passes layered in late-afternoon sun, diamonds of light splashing in rushing streams-this 230,000-acre wilderness area captures many of the magical qualities that attracted the lens of Ansel Adams. Try the 23.7-mile, one-way Koip Peak Pass Traverse. It includes four mountain passes, five alpine lakes, and enough flower-filled meadows to use up all of your film. Be prepared for lingering snowfields, cold stream crossings, mountain weather, and magic light.

Contact: Inyo National Forest, Mono Lake Ranger District, P.O. Box 429, Lee Vining, CA 93541; (760) 647-3000.

Trail Guide: 100 Hikes in California's Central Sierra and Coast Range, by Vicky Spring. The Mountaineers Books, 1001 S.W. Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98134; (800) 553-4453; $12.95.




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