Ants on a donut. That’s the most appropriate analogy for the tourists at Arches National Park this weekend. A long meandering line stretched from the parking lot up to any given arch, upon which there would be a dense army, crawling and climbing in every crack and crevice.

Fifty years ago, Edward Abbey pleaded “no more cars in the National Parks”. While serving as a ranger at Arches, he warned of the threat that “industrial tourism” posed to the parks. He considered the tourists themselves to be the “chief victims” of this crime. “They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

Half a century later, we irreverently cruised down Arches Scenic Drive in our little Kia, pulling over occasionally at overlooks and bathrooms when convenient. As we left, there was a line to get in the entrance, at least 30 cars long (we were wise enough to wake up early and avoid this). Abbey probably would not approve. The crowds aren’t ideal and they certainly create problems, but this is how the National Parks are today. Abbey wasn’t necessarily wrong, but he wasn’t completely right either. My suggestion is to read his books and consider his words carefully. Then do the best you can, given your abilities and means. The parks belong to you. The biggest crime would be never visiting them.


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