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Guest Contributor Series
Closing Freedom’s Gate; The Race to Explore Remote, Public Lands
I preface my following thoughts, with the declaration that I understand, and fully embrace the logic and fact that exploration of remote areas has inherent risks which can be far in excess of the developed and managed opportunities made available to the general public. I also believe that it is incumbent upon the remote explorer, to accept this as fact, and take it upon themselves to prepare for, and be solely responsible for whatever happens to them during such activities.
As much as I was buoyed a couple years ago, by the news that the BLM had (for now) scrapped or at least shelved, the proposed overhaul of the existing (1998) Recreational Management Plan (RMP) for our area; the long-overdue release of the 2019 “Nevada Abandoned Mine Lands Physical Hazards Report”, has renewed my concern, that the effort to separate us from our public lands continues inexorably onward. This is especially troubling to me, because as I have now lived in the desert southwest for the better part of these last, thirty years; and it has been here, in these years, that I have been able to enjoy our beautiful country, in a manner unlike anywhere else.
You see, having split my first 30 years of life in the bucolic Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland, and the vastness of the great state of Texas, I am no stranger to beautiful scenery. But out here, I have been able to off-road it, hike it, scramble it, and even descend into the bowels of it, as I could nowhere else. In those other places you had to experience natures formations, terrain, and scenery, via carefully managed parks and monuments, or from manicured overlooks. Historic places were presented on regulated walkways and/or in structures with business hours. All were beautiful, fascinating, educational and worth the fees paid; but the restrictions, limited hours, and controlled access left me always wanting more. More than even the ubiquitous gift shop could make up for! [Note: That, was back in the day. Now, as I learned on a 2018 visit back-east; there has been another miserable layer of restriction added, interpretation! Now a ranger or a docent, leads you around, TELLING YOU, what you are seeing and adding their opinion along the way! It made re-visiting a place that I used to love to visit, completely intolerable!]
But for one with the heart of an explorer, those places were too well-known, too regulated, and offered no further unrestricted opportunity to search for that which is yet unfound. You are in effect, foiled by managed boundaries, or one property line, after another; all of which were privately owned by someone else, replete with scads of conspicuous “No Trespassing” signs.
Out here in the west however, in addition to the parks, monuments and historic places; there is “public land”, a wonderous place, where one can embrace the risk elements of true remote-area exploration, and lawfully challenge any existing trail or dry wash in areas not locked-up as parks, or other “wilderness areas” (more on that later). Out here, where often the only other limiting factors would be your time, capabilities, and preparation. Out here, where you could drive off-road, and/or hike right up to beautiful, remote locations, or re-discover seldom-visited vestiges of real historic camps and mines. These opportunities provide priceless moments where you’re efforts and initiative, can yield a private experience with a location of marvelous beauty, or the intriguing rediscovery of a spot where man had toiled and then left traces behind that you can personally contemplate in solitude.
Through the last several presidential administrations, the feeling of desperation and impending doom to my freedoms to experience remote exploration, has come in waves. Most often stoked by the learning of another mine closure, for which (in my opinion), the given explanations for such actions seem disproportionate to the actual threat supposedly being abated (especially in the case of very remote locations). Many I have spoken to about this effort are very suspicious of the true motives behind the closures; some have gone as far as to suggest that the effort is actually of a nefarious nature. In any case, what I do know, is that it denies us an opportunity to explore, or re-visit our nation’s history.
I am also outraged at trail closures (to motorized vehicles), as there are some locations which are not practical to reach on foot. Many beautiful locations are put beyond the reach of our citizens. The broad “wilderness areas” are the most egregious impediment, as it seems they are contrived, and purposely drawn, to cordon-off most everything with features that beckon to be explored.
The remote areas of public lands have been a huge part of my life since 1990 and have provided some of my best times and fondest memories with my friends, with my kids, and sometimes just by myself. So whenever I learn that the government is making additional moves to restrict access by designating more “wilderness areas”, or changing a management plan to close existing trails to my Jeep, or when I see an effort to seal-up mines that could be otherwise explored; I take it as a blow against my freedoms. The list of places that I once explored, or visited, which are sealed-off, or no-longer accessible, grows steadily. And I truly dread a day when they have successfully removed the “public” from the “public lands”; when true adventure is no longer possible, leaving only managed roads, that end in parking lots, facilities, and “official” interpreted tours.