Friday, August 27, 2010

History as You Travel

Henry Chappell has recently returned to Home Range. From reading his recent posts, I turned to his blog roll and read up on Wyman Meinzer's blog. There, Meinzer has a photo essay of scenes from the Texas plains paired with excerpts from the journals of hunters, travelers, and pioneers of the nineteenth century describing the spot.

Blasting down an interstate at 75 mph, it is awfully easy to miss or forget the challenge presented to the folks who shaped the lands you're crossing. Even on foot, it can be hard to realize how different a stretch of country felt a hundred years ago, just two overlapping lifetimes. Witness Ecorover's collection of photos of abandoned cabins in the wilder country around Butte, Montana. Designated wilderness areas can be an exception to this, in that they're likely to have been unpopulated, high, harsh, or remote all along, thus qualifying for wilderness designation.

Hiking the Pecos high country, I'm nearly always reminded of reading the books of Elliot Barker, who came to New Mexico in a covered wagon and, son of a homesteader, trapped some of the last grizzly bears out of the Pecos before becoming a game warden, head of the state Game Department, then carrying on trail rides well into the age of jet travel. Barker wrote about many of those experiences. Years (now nearly decades) ago, I was taking a short backpack into the Pecos Wilderness and, on Hamilton Mesa, ran into a Portales rancher horsepacking in with his two young sons for a muzzleloader deer hunt. The trail was level and wide, they had a couple of pack horses and one of the boys was on a pony, so I was able to keep up for a couple of miles while we compared experiences up there. I was quickly asked if I'd read Barker and, having answered "yes", our talk turned to the books and the adventured recounted therein, along with the places described in them that we'd seen. You could see the boys nearly shivering thinking about the huge silver bears up in the dark spruce, gone some seventy years before.

Check out Meinzer's great essay.

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