© Paul Markow
Ninety Reasons to Celebrate
‘‘The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” Those are the words of Edward Abbey. He had a lot to say about wilderness, and some of his most powerful commentary reverberates from the pages of The Journey Home. That’s where that quote comes from.
I never knew the self-described activist, but writer Charles Bowden did. They were good friends. Because this month is a big month for wilderness in America — it’s the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act — I asked Chuck about his friend’s passion for those places the act defines as “unscathed by human intervention.”
“When I was working at the Tucson Citizen in the early 1980s,” Chuck told me, “Ed gave the paper an op-ed piece. In it, he proposed making 50 percent of Arizona a wilderness. He apologized for the modesty of his idea, admitting it was immoral to give half the state to a single species, Homo sapiens. The newspaper declined to publish his position.”
I smiled, thinking about Abbey’s zeal, and then Chuck said, “I think he would never be that restrained today ... Ed was our rasty Aldo Leopold.”
It’s an apt comparison. Like so many environmental advocates, Abbey was inspired by Leopold, who is considered the father of modern conservation. Although he’s best known for his essays in the 1940s and the release of A Sand County Almanac in 1949, the most important date on Leopold’s resume might be December 6, 1919. That’s when he and Arthur Carhart, a young landscape architect for the U.S. Forest Service, began work on what would ultimately become the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law on September 3, 1964.
Today, that landmark conservation bill protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness across the nation. Here in Arizona, we have 4.5 million acres and 90 different wilderness areas. If you do the math, our state ranks fourth in total wilderness. Only Alaska, California and Idaho have more. That’s good news if you’re into the outdoors. It’s good for Arizona Highways, too — wilderness is a recurring theme for us.
In Forever Yours, we’re at it again. This time as a portfolio. You’ve already seen our cover, which features Paul Gill’s gorgeous shot of the Saddle Mountain Wilderness. And there’s more inside, along with an amazing photo essay of Bismarck Lake.
The lake isn’t within one of our 90 wilderness areas, but it is in beautiful country. That’s why we chose it for what we called the “Burcham project.” The concept was simple: Pick a scenic landmark somewhere in Arizona and send John Burcham there for a year to shoot it. After a scouting trip to the Coconino National Forest, we settled on the lake as the landmark. The rest was up to John. He could shoot whatever he wanted, as long as we ended up with 12 images of the lake, one for each month of the year.
Turns out, that wasn’t asking too much — he ultimately sent us a hard drive with 17,398 photographs. “Most photo shoots are a day or two,” John says. “To have something that could go a year really excited me. I was blown away by how much different stuff I could photograph.”
You’ll see that diversity, and John’s ability to shoot it, in Long Exposure. You’ll also see his talent in Capturing the Moments, a profile of Flagstaff photojournalist Dan Budnik. If you don’t know his name, you know his work — Budnik was on the scene of some of the most significant cultural events of the 20th century.
Although John travels around the world and shoots for National Geographic, Patagonia and others, he admitted to being a little nervous about photographing the legendary photojournalist. It doesn’t show, though. It’s an excellent shot. And so is Chikku Baiju’s. You might know Chikku’s name. He won our recent photo contest. It’s his second win, but the first time he’d ever tried anything like the image you’ll see in Best Picture 2014. When we asked about it, he told us he was in the Superstition Mountains to shoot wildflowers at dusk, “but the sunset wasn’t as spectacular as [he’d] hoped.” Fortunately, he decided to stay a little longer.
“I had never shot wildflowers at night,” he says. “So I thought I’d give it a try.” The effort paid off. It was our choice of more than 5,000 entries in the contest, and it’s one of the best shots you’ll ever see from Lost Dutchman State Park, which is adjacent to the rugged Superstition Wilderness.
Designated a forest reserve in 1908 and the Superstition Primitive Area in 1939, the Superstition Wilderness was given the ultimate protection in 1964 — 50 years ago this month. In my conversation with Chuck, I asked him how Edward Abbey would feel about the anniversary of the Wilderness Act: “Ed said way back then that wilderness was the only thing in the country worth saving. I don’t think smartphones and the bleating of tweets would likely change his mind.”