West of Baton Rouge, La., Highway 190 crosses Bayou Grosse Tete and the tracks of the Texas & Pacific runs through the towns of Quick, Blanks and Lottle and reaches the trackless banks of the mysterious Atchafayala River a little above the town of East Krotz Springs. Like Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and Point of Arches in Washington (see following pages) the bayou country hereabout belongs in what authorities on outdoor recreation call an intermediate recreational zone, something not quite primitive but not commercialized either, sometimes fairly close to metropolitan centers but remote from crowds and commuters and reachable in a short time. Such partially isolated pockets of underdeveloped repose—the unexploited camping areas along the white gravel beaches of Lake Superior and the countless tranquil groves along the 45,000 miles of trails in the national forests are others—are growing increasingly-important in this country's summers. And not the least of the reasons is the ubiquitous camping trailer, which has multiplied from 20,000 in 1930 to 325,000 today. Safe, reasonably priced and comfortable (SI, May 13), the trailers make it possible for venturesome, though not necessarily heroic, travelers to go pretty much where they please beyond the usual tourist horizons. To Arizona's Canyon de Chelly they might also trailer a horse, which can carry them to places along the sandy creek bed that cars could never negotiate. To the bayou country they might take a boat trailer. Accessible without the expense of pack-train expeditions, these places are no less beautiful than the deeper wilderness of primitive areas, and often they are equally as wild.
The bayou country, for instance, seems to lead to a different geologic era entirely. It is not surprising that there are so many fish, bobcats, muskrats, alligators, pelicans, herons and migrating waterfowl: it would hardly seem surprising if a pterodactyl flew by. The Atchafalaya flows through a wilderness 70 miles long and 40 miles wide. It has never been completely mapped or explored. North of the highway that crosses it a side road runs up toward Petite Prairie Bayou and Little Wauksha Bayou, which borders the great St. Landry game preserve. To the south and southeast there are the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel, the Happytown Oil Field and the network of waterways, Indian Bayou, Bob Tail Bayou, Bayou des Glaises, Bayou La Rose, Plumb Bob Oil Field, Bayou Mai Boeuf, Alligator Lake—and beyond these a maze that only a few trappers and commercial fisherman ever penetrate, reaching to the Gulf of Mexico.
Arizona and Louisiana and Washington have plenty of undeveloped land; the problem is different in the eastern states. But there are places in the Adirondacks and the While Mountains in New Hampshire, a long way from motels or developed campsites, where a trailer camper, dependent only upon himself for his night's lodgings, can explore a sort of semiwilderness with a flavor of its own.
Take the laurel highlands of Pennsylvania. Follow Highway 31 east for two miles after you leave the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Donegal Interchange, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. Turn right again along Indian Creek on Highway 381. The road runs almost due south through a narrow valley between those two strange parallel ridges that sweep in gigantic arcs across western Pennsylvania, Laurel Ridge on the east and Chestnut Ridge on the west, steep and thickly wooded walls that rise to 2,000 and 3,000 feet on either side. The road winds along the creek below dark weathered rocks and hardwood forests and immense patches of laurels and rhododendrons, with a score or more mountain streams cascading down in so many miles—great deer-hunting and trout-fishing country, but principally valued now because it is the sort of terrain that the Pennsylvania Forest and Water Department, in a rare burst of official eloquence, once described as possessing ' 'a special appeal for those who enjoy seclusion.' "
May 19, 1963
Where the valley narrows to little more than a canyon you cross the Youghiogheny River, a turbulent stream that pours through a narrow defile after its juncture with the Indian. There you leave the highway to reach a destination with the unlikely name of Ohiopyle Falls. History of a sort is connected with the place—Washington supposedly gave up trying to find a water route from Virginia to Pittsburgh when he discovered the falls—but the importance of this particular part of the American woodlands at the moment has nothing to do with its past. Like fresh air and pure water, it is remarkable for what it lacks rather than for what it possesses, and like a good many other relatively unknown places of moderate outdoor attractiveness it has an increasingly rare commodity to offer to mankind—a few square miles of reasonably untroubled solitude.
Last summer, when we were camped not far from the banks of the wild Bumping River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, there was a commotion downstream a way just after dark. Through the forest there shortly appeared a family wheeling its camping trailer, which they had unhitched from the car back on the Forest Service road. With the aid of a flashlight, they guided the trailer expertly around and between the trunks of some good-sized pines and parked it on a sort of terrace that sloped down gently to the water. Then the light of a lantern gleamed whitely over the river and the branches high overhead, a fire started cracking, a tent was opened out and air mattresses were inflated in a matter of minutes. They had driven down from Bremerton Navy Yard, 150 miles or so, after the day's work, but what made them representative of the new generation of trailer campers was that they had been doing the same thing on vacations and long weekends for several years: the youngest boy learned to walk on this pine-needle-carpeted ground.
The endless appeal of this kind of camping is the sense of discovery, the finding of the sort of place you like, not because somebody built a camp there but because it suits your own inclinations. In The Columbia, Murray Morgan gave a classic description of the process: he had driven the dirt road to Downie's Creek, above Revelstoke and along the Columbia River in British Columbia, the old road that skirted the edge of some of the wildest country on the continent and which has now been supplanted by the Trans-Canada Highway. "Few roads in the world cross terrain as rugged or as beautiful," Morgan wrote. "The snow mountains stand close to the river. The forest is predominantly cedar and the sharp smell of cedar is strong in the thin, cool mountain air. The Columbia is a living thing, strong and beautiful, and the sound of the river is a deep purr. Here in the dark forest beside the two rivers is one of the lovely campsites of America. Squatting by a fire roasting meat at the end of a green stick while the sky darkened and the pinpoint stars expanded and the nightbirds called in the woods, it was easy to slip back a century to the nights when the voyageurs sang in the darkness. . . ."
Or take Canyon de Chelly. "This whole state is just one big trailer park," an oldtime camper wrote. "One of our sites is in the Navajo reservation above the Painted Desert in northern Arizona. Rock spires and monuments tower a thousand feet above the canyon floor. Cliff dwellings are nearby and Indians herd their sheep. National Park facilities are rough but adequate for anyone trailering."
As a matter of fact, the Park Service issues a warning to all visitors that it will take no responsibility for people who get stuck in the sands of Canyon de Chelly, but experienced trailer campers say that anyone who can pull a trailer can make it. About 230 miles west of Albuquerque and some 360 miles northeast of Phoenix, Canyon de Chelly is as secluded as ancient Petra on the edge of the Arabian Desert and is strangely akin to that deserted city of rose-colored rock. You drive over transcontinental highways to Gallup, then north to Highway 68, then 52 miles west through uninhabited country, then turn right on an unnumbered road leading through the dry bleached mountains and lunar emptiness and silence of the Navaho lands—"A country that seems to be grieving over something," a literate cowhand named Andy Adams once wrote. At the town of Chinle (pop. 150), 32 miles above Highway 68, there is an opening that leads into the canyon along the stream bed. There is only one way in and one way out. Through the sandy roadway you reach a hidden green recess between red canyon walls that are increasingly high and close together. At seven miles you come to spectacular monuments like Spider Rock, and a junction with a side canyon, and a cliff dwelling built in a fold high on the face of a stupendous concave gold and greenish-blue gemlike cliff. Farther on there is a magnificent 90-room, three-story structure built by Indians centuries ago in a recessed shelf that measures about 300 feet long and 100 feet deep and stands 300 feet above the canyon floor. A camper who stops under the huge cottonwoods on the banks of the creek, with the sheer canyon walls towering above and the haunting ruins of a hidden civilization around him, will find the seclusion of De Chelly deep enough. Nor will he be crowded. "In some places in Arizona there arc local restrictions against trailering," a camper wrote, "but in most it's just pull over into some meadow and camp."
Even in the underprivileged East you can drive from New York down the New Jersey Turnpike, follow Highway 13 through eastern Maryland, cross over to Norfolk and in a few more miles (after driving along the Great Dismal Swamp Canal) reach the northern end of the Outer Banks, 70 miles of almost unbroken isolation, at Kitty Hawk. On all the long beaches that stretch from Oregon Inlet to Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke, one of the longest undeveloped expanses of the U.S. eastern coast, you can travel for miles in a seclusion broken only by shorebirds and surf casters. The threat that hangs over most undeveloped areas, the ever-present likelihood of their commercial development as soon as they become popular, has been removed: this windblown coast is the first National Recreation Area, run by the Park Service, and frozen in its present status of half a dozen small villages and one through road. Here you can camp at any time during the year. Here, too, the Park Service warns that it will not be responsible for towing your car and trailer out of the dunes, but campers say you can get wherever you want to go without trouble.
Or consider the Musquacook Lakes in Maine. You can drive to the town of Daaquam on the border between Maine and Quebec and follow an International Paper Company road south unto the Allagash wilderness—a private road open to public use, in the way that the embattled Allagash is a private timberland given over like a park to the public. Campsites have been opened along Second Musquacook Lake—there is a chain of five Musquacooks—for the first time this summer. They are screened in birch groves above the smooth gravel beaches that were formed years ago when the log-drive dams went out. They are nothing new in Maine, where the Forest Department runs 400-odd state campsites, but they reach still deeper into the biggest wilderness east of the Mississippi and, for people who want seclusion even more profound, they edge the wilds of Horse Rapids in the steep mountain country where the Musquacook River joins the Allagash.
Or take the rugged invitation to Mesquite Springs in Death Valley National Monument, where a few hardy trailer campers have found a new pastime in testing the rigors of the region. You drive northeast from Los Angeles 350 miles on Highway 190, and the road drops down and down into the powdery white valley floor, stony gravel and bushes that look like dead sticks, to a point 279.6 feet below sea level, the lowest point on the continent. Nothing hereabouts is easy—the temperature ranges upward to 140°, and warnings read: "Do not attempt to walk in the valley in summer." Past the ruins of gold mines and borax works the road climbs above sea level to a tiny campsite at Mesquite Springs, where there are spring water, fireplaces and room for seven campers. Death Valley campers, who are usually rock hunters, scorn these comforts, however, and camp in more representative barren rock. And there is a commercial trailer park at Furnace Creek Ranch near Mesquite Springs in case the hardships of the valley become too taxing.
Or take the whole Olympic Peninsula in Washington, where Point of Arches juts out from the rain forest and the all-but-unknown Olympic Mountains. The beach is a few miles short of being the westernmost point of the contiguous U.S., and the Olympic Peninsula is a drenched, wind-whipped land, with magical interludes when the sunlight breaks through and the stupendous vistas of mountains and forest and sea open out as if a curtain has risen.
There are innumerable others: protected regions like the Sand Hills of Nebraska or the game preserve of Cheyenne Bottoms in central Kansas, the marvelous camps of Canada or, better still, the great camping areas, like those that lie along the forestry trunk road to Kananaskis Lake and the Burnt-Timber country northwest of Calgary, or along the Alaska Highway, where the Canadian government lists 97 services and facilities in 1,221 miles, including 15 campgrounds and 63 service stations. For that matter, camping is generally permitted anywhere in most of the 150 national forests of the U.S., outside the innumerable campgrounds as well as within them, and the national forests are still among the matchless treasures of the earth, covering an area roughly one-quarter the size of Europe outside the Iron Curtain, or about equal in extent to the 13 original states from Maine to Georgia as far west as the Great Lakes. There is still enough wilderness—or at least un-crowded woods—to go around. But it has to be sought out. Theodore Winthrop gave as good an account as there is of what the wilderness can mean when he described his first visit to Mount Rainier in Canoe and Saddle, the one great book about the Pacific Northwest. "It was a giant mountain dome of snow, swelling and seeming to fill the aerial spheres as its image displaced the deep blues of tranquil water . . . Yet there was nothing unsympathetic in its isolation, or despotic in its distant majesty. Our lives forever demand and need visual images that can be symbols to us of the grandeur or sweetness of repose . . . And studying the light and majesty there entered into my being an image of solemn beauty which I could thenceforth evoke whenever in the world I must have peace or die."
The Outdoor Resources people put it less emotionally, but plainly enough: "There is a composite value in wilderness recreation. ... It derives from all the activities and experiences one enjoys or doesn't enjoy—camping, primitive travel, exhaustion, incomparable solitude, miserable weather—in a setting big enough for their simultaneous happening with elbow room." While this country's areas of true wilderness are shrinking, there is a place for "transition recreation zones belted around the periphery of reserved wilderness areas." And trailer campers are leading the way to them. As the Resources Commission says, "Many people now unhappily overcrowded in well-known parks, or driven to remote areas beyond their camping capabilities, might find their needs satisfied in these intermediate zones. A generation might have another chance to learn at firsthand the variety and wonder and the unforgettable beauty of the American woods and the summer sun."