“We seem to understand the value of oil, timber, minerals and housing, but not the value of unspoiled beauty, wildlife, solitude, and spiritual renewal.” – Calvin & Hobbs
How do you convince someone of the value of something they haven’t seen? How do you instill the value of something they’ve never experienced? How do you reach someone who shelters themselves from the unknown?
I’m trying to answer these questions. I know that I recharge in the wild spaces. In the cooler elevations of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, the smell of pine with the wind rushing through the trees, in the thick of the Uinta National Forest. The daunting expanses of jagged rock carved out of the ancient desert, by the patient flow of water. The smell of rain and ozone atop the Dead Horse Point when a storm is rolling through, excitement like electricity in the air. All these places fill me with wonder, as do the journeys between each place, the places between, the abandoned shells of ghost towns, the rusted remains of vehicles left in the desert. Exploring new places is where I find awe, that fills my soul with joy. I find peace when I’m out of touch with the worries and noise of the city. This is why I flee beyond the worries of the city; why I go to find adventure, why I take the journey.
My wandering spirit was fostered by my parents. As a child, my sisters and I went on long drives with my parents, just for the sake of the journey. We spent hours on the highway, and hours on dirt roads, in search of ghost towns. We drove portions of the Pony Express. These all left an engrained love of travel and a strong relationship to nature. The book that served as our primary guide, The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns by Stephen L. Carr, now lives in my own vehicle.
On my own, I’ve retraced some of those childhood journeys. I’ve driven parts of the Pony Express. I’ve looked for ghost towns. I’ve found the skeletal remains of towns; often only foundations remain, sometimes there are piles of boards with rusted nails. Often only the cemetery still stands, worn head stones, rotted wooden markers and burial plots surrounded by a fence, or simple stones. Some of my favorite stories to tell come from these travels. I’ve followed desert roads until I couldn’t anymore. I’ve taken muddy roads by mistake and been fortunate enough to get out without getting seriously stuck. I’ve high-centered my car on the edge of the road in a desert plain, where the road was worn deep into the soft silt. I’ve driven down a mountain, to dodge a brush fire, only to look at the mountain from a distance, and seeing the firefighting efforts at the spot I just was. I’ve been kissed by lightning on Island in the Sky. I’ve seen Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands as storms roll through, watching the rain fall into the jagged landscape. I’ve visited archeological and historic sites all long my journeys.
There is so much to see. I return to these places whenever I can, to continue to be filled with awe and wonderment. I’m fed by the beauty of Scenic Byways of Utah. I’ve done rapid paced road trips around Utah, visiting all the national parks possible, and knowing I could spend a week in each one and still not see everything.
There is so much to see, and the urgency to protect these places from mineral and water exploitation, from the consequences of climate change, is more critical than ever. Rarely can I find a view clear of air pollution. Climate change chews away at Utah’s landscapes, as corrupt legislators are permitting the destruction of things they’ve never seen and have no value for. I have no idea how to convince them of the true value of these places. That their value lies in their natural beauty, the relationship between nature and generations of indigenous people. Their value is not in their minerals or resources. How do you capture the scale of these places? How do you do it without going out into them, and experiencing it firsthand? How do you communicate to the politicians and business interests who too often only see dollar signs, legal documents, and memos on company letterhead? Where quarterly earnings over spiritual renewal is the rule. Where the bottom line over clean water is the primary concern. Where production and product matter far more than breathable air. Profit over everyone and everything.
I fight for wilderness. It recharges me, grants perspective on myself and life, in those moments most critical. But I can only do so much. Everyone can do something though, and taking action is as easy as voting for representatives who value these places, who understand their value is in natural beauty and the tourism this generates, instead of the exploitation of the minerals. An industrial wasteland is worthless once the minerals are gone, consumed and discarded like so much else in this ever-hungry society.
Change is inevitable, but I’d rather the landscape change from the forces of natural erosion and evolution, instead of bulldozers, excavators, and dynamite. I fight for wilderness, for beauty. I tell people about these places I explore, the things I find, hoping to ignite their imagination so they go seek it out for themselves. I don’t want my stories to just become about what once was, now lost. I want my stories to inspire more stories, and for those stories to join with others’ – with yours – to protect the natural world and all its wonder, adventure, and mystery.
Ian Davis is an aspiring writer, photographer, art dabbler, and explorer. He has a fascination with humankind's on going relationship to the environment. This fascination manifests in his photography, often of abandoned places, rusted cars, historic structures, landscapes and cemeteries.
On Instagram @Different.Ian