The two readings seem to view cars and roads from opposite views. While Abbey rails against “wheelchair tourists” (which I, as an actual wheelchair user, didn’t know whether to laugh at or be offended by) who prefer to view nature from their cars, Wilson sees the car as a source of freedom, and a way to bring people closer to nature. There is merit to both viewpoints. It is a shame that tourism has become industrialized to the point where national parks are being modified to accommodate motorists, but at the same time, without some of these modifications, I think park attendance would see a huge drop-off.
I don’t think there is any turning back from the automobile being the primary mode of transportation, and in some ways, recreation, in America. So much of life caters to or is made possible by the automobile: fast food drive-thrus, the family road-trip, the thrill of getting one’s license as a teenager and the responsibility that is learned from owning a car, and countless other examples. The car is here to stay, so now the important issues revolve around responsible use of it, from environmentally-friendly fuels to safe driving. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.
I found the "Industrial Tourism and National Parks" reading very interesting. My experience with national parks has been quite limited because I came from a very rural settings where we could hang out in our backyard and have somewhat of the equivalent experience of a national park (though on a miniature scale). I did not actually realize that national parks had roads cutting through them, I thought they were mainly contained to walking paths.
I found myself agreeing with Abbey's proposal that we should limit cars from going into the parks and I actually thought his proposal, though a bit optimistic, was quite a good stepping stone. I do not feel it will necessarily be to hard to move our culture away from the prospect of driving through the parks so much, but restricting RVs or Motor homes I feel is another matter entirely. There is a certain type of lifestyle attached to these objects. They offer the perceived ability to engage with nature while offering the comforts of home such as indoor plumbing and a comfy bed. RVs are a huge financial investment and one of their predominant markets is for campers. By changing the parks it would greatly devalue the RVs that so many have invested heavily in.
The “Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” reading brought up a lot of great points that I think many of us don’t think about today. National parks are created and/or named a park in order to preserve their entirety. In many cases, there are certain aspects of the land or its inhabitants that need protection in order to survive. I think it’s really interesting then that people have been able to build so many roads through them and have been able to industrialize them. As Abbey states, the wilderness is a necessary part of civilization and it should be the primary responsibility of the national park system to preserve what it contains. Many of the animals and plants that thrive in them are necessary to the balance of the surrounding ecosystems. Since building roads through the parks mean constructing buildings and even pollution, the survival of these organisms can be compromised. On the other hand, industrial tourism means business and money for the park that would otherwise not be brought in at such high demand. The more tourism, the more people learn about the park and the importance of its ecosystem. This can mean more money generated to upkeep and even preserve certain areas of the park that may not happen without the inflow of money. Since this seems to create a sort of circle of effects, where both actually have benefit and disadvantages, is one truly better than the other or can there be a balance of both?
I was intrigued by the idea of the automobile’s control over the perception of space and time. Edward Abbey brings this up when he argues that refusing to build more roads through state parks and forcing people to not use the current roads for automobiles would help them to actually enjoy more fully the park systems that they have traveled so far to see. He addresses the counterargument that people would see less of the park if this were to happen by deftly stating that “Distance and space are functions of speed and time. Without expending a single dollar from the United States Treasury we could, if we wanted to, multiply the area of our national parks tenfold or a hundredfold -- simply by banning the private automobile. The next generation, all 250 million of them, would be grateful to us.” I kept circling back to this idea, thinking of my own experiences with parks, and how much more challenging but rewarding it would be to actually be forced to wander through great stretches of the space without being able to simply speed along to the “best part”, stay for twenty minutes, then drive on to the next thing. I think our perception of what we have would be increased, and our enjoyment in the space would also increase. I think that the elongated time that people would spend in the parks would almost certainly also foster a deeper sense of connection to the space.
Spaces that are preserved to be natural are only what we as 'civilized' humans view as natural. We still need total, convenient access to these spaces, and this means ways for the automobile to get around. To enter these natural spaces in anything but a car would be entirely unnatural to us. That there are no spaces that are truly natural, and that we have to set aside land to be natural and 'untouched' but to have to touch it so that it's accessible is truly a mouthful. It's a bit hard to swallow as well if you wish spaces to be truly untouched.
While reading the piece by Abbey, I couldn't help but think of my own campsite in what I consider the wilderness. I found myself wondering if he would also consider it natural. I think he probably wouldn't. My family takes a couple weeks off every August and camps at the Lake Superior State Forest Campground in the Upper Peninsula. We've been going for over 20 years, since I was one year old, so I'm pretty attached to it. We sleep in tents, pump our own water, and bathe in the lake. But we drive there. We have a cooler and a small camping stove. We go grocery shopping beforehand so we have ample supply of food, and we even bring our own firewood. The roads aren't paved, and my mom often comments that she hopes they never will be, or our special campground will become too crowded for our liking. So she's kind of already thinking like Abbey, but if he were to look at the way we appreciate nature, he would probably scoff.
As far as the reading by Wilson goes, I found it kind of interesting, especially the part about the parkways. This summer, my parents and I drove to North Carolina to attend my brother's graduation from graduate school. On the way there, my parents paid $15 to drive on a "natural" road, the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park that follows the Appalachian Trial. I'm admittedly not a fun person to travel with, and I could not wrap my head around why they would want to spend money and take more time driving on some "special" road. While I did find it quite beautiful, I am prone to motion sickness (recall the story about vomiting on a train in Italy) and I was forced to close my eyes most of the time as we swerved down the windy road. But I suppose if my parents didn't do half of the crazy things they do, I wouldn't appreciate nature quite as much.
The majority of both of these readings were complaining about how the car was ruining the natural landscape of the earth because of the construction of road systems. These articles, especially the one written by Edward Abby, “Industrial Tourism and the National Parks,” said that the solution to the damaging roads was to ban the car from many areas of the country. He said that the road systems were long and straight and monotonous, ruining the landscape and fostering hastened erosion, and so cars needed to be banned from National Parks. I disagree with this. Banning cars would not be a good solution. I do agree that it is a shame that the road systems cut through the land, taking away from the natural beauty of the landscape. But people want to go to these places in their cars, and therefore roads need to exist. It is the modern way and there is no stopping it. People won’t want to leave their cars. I wouldn’t want to leave my car. Driving is a meditative and spiritual experience. I think that the solution to the road problem would be to have the roads flow with the land. They should flow up and down and around the land. This would ensure that there would no longer be any monotony in driving. The roads need curves and slopes and change otherwise people loose focus. When Hitler had the German Autobahn built, he ordered it to move with the landscape, through the countryside, in order to show off the beauty of Germany, and not destroy it. The same idea could be applied in National Parks and generally across all American road systems to make driving more enjoyable, and to have less adverse side effects to the environment. Cars are not the problem, and neither are roads, but how the roads are build and how they flow require reform.
Within the article Industrial Tourism and the National Parks by Edward Abbey, he discusses the sort of sanctity of national parks and the destruction of such sanctity by cars, with the associated paved roadways and costs, as well as the noise and disruption of the wildlife in the national parks.
His solution is to remove the vehicles entirely from the park as an attempt to stop the drastic changes that he sees the cars as bringing. However, from my experience in campgrounds and parks, it is often the case that the owners will do whatever they deem fit to attract customers. For example, the Gooseberry Falls campground was ruined when the park decided that it would be a good idea to tear down the trees surrounding one half of the campground and put in a 2 meter wide, elevated bike trail into their premises.
The changes are inevitable with new innovations and new people manning the helm of these companies. And though it would be nice to have a park where cars were not allowed inside, it seems like it would be a strange day indeed that such a rule ever came to pass.
Edward Abbey has some very strong points and has idealistic views. It is too bad that none of his propositions would fly in this country. At least at this point, with a lot more awareness about the environment and much more activism about preservation, he would have a bit better chance than previously. I would be glad to walk around outside in the park; this is absolutely what the parks were preserved for, to view nature as it has been kept. Just as he ends, he points out that the "I, for one, suspect that millions of our citizens, especially the young, are yearning for adventure, difficulty, challenge - they will respond with enthusiasm." It's somewhat strange to think that we even have these places when our forefathers had to explore and find ways to survive in the wilderness and we use our leisure time to view it. It was quite poetic that he followed the path of the jeep and tore up each stake. I also realized that without the automobile in the park, mobility would greatly increase. He ends with, "Then I went home to the trailer, taking a shortcut over the bluffs." There is no real way to take a shortcut in a car at a park, so everyone has a very similar experience. How much cooler could it be if everyone had a unique experience?
I don't find it surprising that tourism is a pastime that sprung up after the advent of the automobile. It only seems natural that without an easy and convenient way to travel quickly, there would be no good in going places except for business or to see family. Like Wilson said, nature was turned into something that was only for the eye as there were no longer many obstacles to viewing any vista. These vistas as he says, were selected, which is an odd idea. Imagine the road went a different way; you would then have a different perspective of that area.
I feel naive. I had no idea of the extent of the industrialization of our national parks. I have always had an idealized view of what the national parks look like, but have never seen any outside Minnesota. Of course we hear of the struggle at the Boundary Waters National Canoe Area between those who want to allow motorized boats and those that don't. Because the BWCA argument always seems to side with those protecting natural beauty and scenery of the park, I assumed that it was the same at the other parks.
That said, I love to do what my family has called "luxury camping" where we visit a county park camp ground's modern camping site (a site with electricity and water), bring a tent, and equip it with air mattresses, a portable projector and screen, DVDs. We cook food over a fire, and a small propane stove. We use clean bathrooms and play on a modern Rainbow-style playground system.
Someday I'll visit the national parks. When I do, I won't mind having to park my car, wander in on foot, and try to leave it as I found it. Of course, given the choice, I also won't complain if I get to drive around it all in a day - but that's because I'm selfish.
I had assumed that the National Parks Act would act as the stewart of the parks, making the right decisions to protect the parks for the long term. Knowing that if left up to the public or the politicians, that it wouldn't be anything left for future generations to enjoy.
Reading Abbey's description of the abuse of our national forests is something I have been familiar with throughout my life. A few examples stand out. One is the use of dirt bikes, and ATV's in some national parks, in Halsey National Forest in Halsey, NE this is a big problem. This is in the sandhills, an area of Nebraska where the soil is strictly sand left over from the creation of the rockies. This composition of soil is extremely fragile, and susceptible to erosion. These off road vehicles tear up the grass exposing the soil which then creates blowouts, which if left untreated grow, and can even consume an entire hill. This is a constant problem because the forest is also home to ranch pastures, which use the land to feed their cattle, but if the blowouts continue to grow then they will no longer be able to use this land. Many of my other experiences have been similar to the ones that Abbey described, but one was particularly funny, this summer I was camping in South Dakota for a bike race. When I showed up to the camp site to pay for my spot, they asked me what type of camper I had, when I told them I had a tent they looked at me funny, and it took them a few minutes to find me a spot. I laughed at it then, but thinking about it now, it is kind of sad that so few people camp in tents at that forest that the park rangers forgot that, that was a possibility.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on February 18, 2013 7:48 AM.
"Automobiles and Automobility" - Ruth S. Cowan; "Roads Belong in the Landscape" - J.B. Jackson was the previous entry in this blog.
America as Second Creation - David Nye: chapters 5 & 6 is the next entry in this blog.
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