Solitude is a quality not often accounted for when considering the value of a recreational venue. Rather than focusing on a rather ethereal quality such as solitude, the Western culture tends to look for those signature physical features such as a geyser in Yellowstone, a granite monolith in Yosemite, or a mile deep gorge in the Grand Canyon. So how do you endorse or promote the solitude of an area without simultaneously destroying it, by bringing in the solitude seeking masses of humanity?
For the Marble Mountain Wilderness, solitude seems to be more than possible. Solitude is likely here. So, why is the Marble Mountain Wilderness so much less impacted than Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon? Fee based entrance passes and advance reservations are suggested or required for the latter!
I think the answer lies not in the comparative values of these venues, but in their comparative ease of access. You can drive along the rim of the Grand Canyon, you can bus North to South through Yosemite, and you can drive across Yellowstone. Sure, there are road-free areas of these parks, but if you step out of the “zone”, you are surrounded.
By contrast, you must physically exert yourself in order to access the Marbles. The overarching point to a “wilderness” is that it has limited access as a key to its’ preservation. There are no roads through the Marbles, and you cannot bike (legally) through them. Visitors to the Marbles must be on foot, or horseback (mules included). In an age of immediate gratification, a significant physical investment by visitors is going to dramatically reduce access from the more sedentary portion of humanity. You actually have to work and sweat to gain the rewards of a visit to the Marbles. This clever managerial construct of the Wilderness Act is something I feel grateful for. Here is the key:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The USFS website lists about 100 named lakes in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Most of them are at an elevation between 5000 and 6500 feet, and the more commonly used trailheads start between 3500 – 4500 feet. Visitors to the Marble Mountain Wilderness lakes must burn enough calories to climb 2000 vertical feet on average.
There is also a bit of geographic serendipity in play regarding the solitude of the Marbles. For just a moment, imagine Eureka being replaced by San Francisco, Redding is replaced by Los Angeles, and Ashland is replaced by Portland. If the wilderness boundary of the Marbles were within a two – three hour drive of each of these three mega-metropolises, solitude would evaporate under the heat of millions urban escapees. The thought makes me jittery just to imagine it. For now at least, just getting close to the wilderness borders is going to require a daunting investment of time and energy.
All this makes me feel sometimes poignant and somewhat despondent as I reflect on the shrinking prospects for moments of individual solitude. This is probably a root cause in my decision to make my home in Somes Bar, and live on the western edge of my favorite wilderness, the Marbles. My wife and I can walk out our door and climb to a party with no body there.