Adobe Town in Wyoming's southern Red Desert is a reminder of the fragility of wilderness. | Photo courtesy Erik Molvar
It’s hard to understand the entirety of the Red Desert. Its immensity, geologic history, and ecology tell a tale too long for a thousand lifetimes. I’ve spent a good portion of this summer in the Red Desert hiking, leading outings, and exploring. Each time I travel a new road, wandering down unknown labyrinthine passages, I am reminded of the complexity of this landscape. The endless towers and embankments of mudstone, carved by timeless forces, overwhelm the senses and strain the rational faculty that orders the phenomena of nature.
Recently I experienced such an effect when exploring a small corner of the Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area, located in the southern Red Desert. Trailing the sun, I drove my car for what seemed like countless hours through the meandering dirt roads. Like most roads in the Red Desert, it ended at an abandoned well site. A barren patch of soil and a capped wellhead bore witness to the economic undertakings that now threaten this landscape. After a nights rest, and unsure of my exact location, I packed a small bag of necessities and headed west to a few spires in the distance.
I slowly wandered into an endless paradise. Tuffaceous sandstone crumbled below my feet and lofty pillars of mudstone exposed fossils from another epoch. I knew right away that the story of these spectacular cliffs and arches began long ago. Being there on foot provided a rare experience, and I deceivingly perceived I was in complete isolation, miles away from anthropogenic influence, and alone to discover the enchantment of this Zen garden.
A flight over the Red Desert the following day proved the perception of isolation otherwise, and further strengthened my resolve to fight for wilderness. While on the flight, my eyes caught a glimpse of where I camped. I saw the spires and endless buttes below, and to my surprise I also noticed that encircling Adobe Town a web of roads and densely packed well pads sprawled in all directions to the horizon.
I fear a future where development engulfs every square inch of nature including the baffling facades of Adobe Town. While these havens provide rare sanctuaries for solitude, we must ask ourselves: why so much exploitation everywhere else? How are migratory species such as deer, antelope, and elk to survive and continue with such fragmentation? As Adobe Town confounds reason in its complexity, I suspect that such disturbances in the natural order of things are symptoms of a lack in our human understanding of the world, and the effects of our actions.
Grasping the totality of this space and our society’s pathological relationship towards the natural world remains difficult. Nature serves as the surest indication that we are ephemeral and ignorant beings, yet we continue to encroach upon and destroy the sanctums that teach us these lessons. I am indebted to Adobe Town for reminding me of the fragility of wilderness and the blind behaviors of our time. It stands testament to the future eclipse of our species, and our entombment in geological time.