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A Conversation with Elizabeth Hightower Allen

A century after Aldo Leopold proposed the Gila as the first designated wilderness in the United States, First and Wildest (March 2022) delivers passionate prose from writer-activists who celebrate this vast, rugged landscape—and argue for its preservation.

Elizabeth Hightower Allen is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, where she spent twenty-plus years editing award-winning features and writing columns and book reviews. A transplanted southerner turned westerner, she lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she edits books and articles about public lands, memoir, and adventure, and serves on the advisory board to Writers on the Range. She and her husband and daughter spend as much time as they can exploring the rivers and mountains of the West—while also making it back to Tennessee fairly frequently for ham biscuits. Her mind is blown by the rugged vastness of the Gila.


READ: Tell us about a book that shifted your perspective in some way, and/or made an impression on you.

I recently edited a book called Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places (Rizzoli Press, 2021). It’s actually a photography book—a collection of essays and images by Pete McBride, who has traveled on assignment to some of the world’s most remote places, including stretches of our own Colorado River that rarely see visitors. What he found, however, was that when he got home and looked at his images, they never quite captured the sense of awe he felt in those wild spaces. He finally realized what was missing: the silence he’d experienced in the wild, whether loud with wind or penguin squawks or hushed, like the Grand Canyon at night.

This has really changed how I experience nature. I too always felt that the majesty I experienced in the woods or on a mountaintop was mostly visual. But I’ve been tuning into the landscape of sound. It’s been a real balm.

REVEAL: What was revealed to you in the process of working on you