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Essay/Term paper: Abbey, and his fear of progress

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Abbey, and His Fear of Progress

Edward Abbey

The day that the gray jeep with the U.S. Government decal and "Bureau of Public
Roads" on it, Edward Abbey knew that progress had arrived. He had foreseen it,
watching other parks like his, fall in the face of progress. He knew that
hordes of people and their "machines" would come (Abbey 50-51). Most people see
progress as a good thing. Abbey proclaims. "I would rather take my chances in a
thermonuclear war than live in such a world (Abbey 60)."

"Prog-ress n. forward motion or advance to a higher goal; an advance; steady
improvement (Webster's)." Is progress really all of that? How can you improve
on mother nature? Progress actually detracts from the parks natural beauty.
Cars, litter, and vandalism can all be attributed to "progress." In this frame
of thinking "progress" kind of contradicts it's self.

The most detrimental aspect of progress is the automobile. "'Parks are for
people' is the public-relations slogan, which decoded means that the parks are
for people-in -automobiles." People come streaming in, driving their cars.
They are in a hurry because they are trying to see as many parks as possible in
their short vacation time. They have to deal with things such as: car troubles,
traffic, hotel rooms, other visitors pushing them onward, their bored children,
and the long trip home in a flood of cars. Many of them take tons of pictures,
possibly so that they can actually enjoy the park without all of the hassles
(Abbey 58). Without leaving their cars they will never actually experience the
beauty and wonderment of the parks. They will only find the stress and chaos
that they sought to leave at home (Abbey 59).

There is a minority though, that prefers to be able to get away from the modern
world completely, and travel throughout the parks on foot, bicycle, or horse.
With these vehicles they can travel on quiet trails that are impassable by
automobiles. These trails will lead them to places where progress has yet to
hit. They can sleep in the open, breath the fresh air, and hear nothing but
mother nature herself. They will never get pushed out of the way buy the rush
of other tourists, cramming to catch a glimpse of the sights (Abbey 59). This
is what I call anti-progress.

Anti-progress is what progress seeks desperately to destroy. The Developers
(progress seekers) want the entire park to be accessible to both man and his
machines(Abbey 55). This means the those nice quiet trails that that hikers,
bikers, and horse riders so enjoy have to be destroyed by paving them with black
asphalt. And along with the road comes the steady stream on noisy, smelly, cars.
Abbey's park, Arches National Monument, was accessible via "traversing a long,
dusty, dirt road" when he wrote about it. It is now a paved road that carries
thousands a year (Little 34). This must be stopped for the sake of all people
involved or the park setting will be the same as the urban environment.

Anti-progress still thrives in some parks. Does that mean that some people will
not got here just because their car won't fit? Probably, but does it mean that
no one but those who are young, athletic and fit for the trails go there? No,
people of all ages, and athletic ability enjoy these parks, these are people who
refuse "to live always like sardines in a can." Thousands and thousands of
people raft down the rivers, ride into the Grand Canyon on mules, and hike and
climb various mountain ranges (Abbey 55-56). More people should follow their
lead and leave their cars behind to experience the outdoors.

Abbey has thought up a good, reasonable solution that would bring the outdoors
back to the outdoors. His plan is simple, it has three steps. Although his
plan may seem a bit drastic, a plan like this is needed. The first step of his
plan is to keep all motorized vehicles out of the park. The second, stop
building roads. The third and final step is to set the park rangers to work.

For the first step, a giant parking lot would be constructed about ten miles
away from the park. This will require people to find other means of
transportation, such as feet, bike, or horses to get there. The best plan would
be for the government to provide bikes to the people who don't have one, to use
for free. Their necessities: tent, food, clothes, etc. will be transported to
their campsite free of charge. Those who are not able to ride a bike would also
be shuttled to the campgrounds. In the camp ground there would be a few stores
that would supply things that are forgotten, or ran out (Abbey 60).

The second step kind of falls into place after the first one is implemented.
The money saved by not making anymore roads could be put into enacting the plan
as a whole. Improving the trail systems would also be a good candidate for some
more money. The existing roads would be used by the bikes, and the support
vehicles. The size of the park will have seemed to have increased overnight,
because of the lack of vehicles to carry you across them in under an hour. A
two week vacation can be had, and enjoyed in one park; instead of jumping from
park to park (Abbey 62-63).

The final step is to make leaders out of the park rangers. This will be
required once the people start hiking the trails; someone needs to keep them
from getting lost, killed, maimed, etc. The people could also use a "tour
guide," one to teach them the history of the land, making the trip all the more
interesting. Who better to do this then the park rangers (Abbey 63-64)?

There will of course be people who oppose the idea saying that people just won't
leave the luxury of their own cars. Yes, there are a lot of Americans who would
not be up to the challenge, but it might be surprising how many people are lured
to the added adventure of actually being outdoors. The amount of people might
even be larger than when the parks are flooded with cars (Abbey 64).

Abbey was hopeful when he summed it up with a billboard that would be posted at
the parks in the future, it reads as follows (65-66):


The above plan probably will never happen, but it would save the parks system
from a fate worse than death. The parks should be regarded as more than just a
roadside tourist trap. Abbey asked, "Are men no better than sheep or cattle,
that they must live always in view of on another in order to feel a sense of
safety?" Abbey believes that the answer is "no (Abbey 68)," I tend to agree,
people need to get away from the hustle and bustle of their lives. The national
parks system is a great way to get away. If we continue to allow our parks to
be desecrated by progress our parks system will be just as bad as what you are
trying to leave.

Abbey strongly believed in his cause. He would also get furious at the
destruction of mother nature; he spoke out against this in his lectures and
essays. James Bishop wrote in his book The Monkey Wrench Gang (Little 35).

Because of Abbey's madcap but deadly serious novel, people of all ages can never
again look the same way at massive freeway systems where desert and farmland
used to be; at once-lush forests now clear-cut into lunar landscapes-or at huge
dams on once-free rivers.

Abbey loved the land so much that he wanted to be buried under a rock, in a
sleeping bag, in the middle of the desert (Sandlin 11). Carved into the rock
reads (Little 35):

Works Cited

Little, Charles E. "Books for the Wilderness." Wilderness. Summer 1994: 34-35.

Sandlin, Tim. "Nightmare Abbey." The New York Times Book Review. 1994, December

Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus. 1993. Landoll, Inc.


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