Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Millennials and the Quest for the Wild

Edgar surveys the Yuha Desert

-by Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

I know I have been a little inconsistent with my supposedly weekly hiking adventures, but the last month has been a busy one. I finally got the chance to get back on the dusty trail (or lack of trail) much to my heart’s content. I chose a truly grand undertaking; I wanted to tackle the largest mountain in the Coyote range, Carrizo Peak.
I, perhaps unsurprisingly, failed.
Edgar and his friend Max
I set off with my friend Max to the Coyotes at around 4 AM. I had heard that the trailhead was somewhere in Painted Gorge, so we started there. We then got lost in the dark, so we pulled over, set up our tiny (non-invasive) portable camp stove, and cooked some chili. As the sun began to rise, I climbed out of the gorge through a wash, and was greeted with an exhilarating view. As the cool wind nibbled at my face, the purples, reds, and greens of the gorge swam before my eyes. I told Max to follow me up and then we climbed to the top of a nearby hill. I had climbed this very same hill the last time I was at the Coyotes, but the sunrise blessed me with a completely different view. The hues of the sky blended just as beautifully as did those of the gorge, albeit with brighter, more striking colors.
Dawn in the desert
Moments like that cannot be bought or sold. They can only be experienced. It is something that more and more Americans, particularly young people, are realizing. While millennials are often typecast as technology dependent urban dwellers, there is a growing pull to nature blossoming within the selfie generation. Posts glorifying the outdoors explode on social media all the time. Conservation movements are getting strong support from young people; perhaps the greatest example of this is the opposition movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline that clearly struck a nerve with young adults. Although not specifically a conservation movement, protecting natural resources is undoubtedly a cause that resonates powerfully within what might be the most urbanized generation in our nation’s history. Similar to the Wilderness Cult of the turn of the century that influenced the founding of our national parks, pushback to increasing urbanization could be the cause of millennial interest in the outdoors. Although this is pure speculation, other factors for this “quest for the wild” could be the inability to afford the attractions of the city, the increasing relevance of the finite resources and nature on Earth, and the inability to find (and afford) life satisfaction in the creature comforts of the previous generation.
Edgar explores a small side canyon
Although this is anecdotal, the weekend I took my hike had three different friends also post nature experiences like mountain climbing and hiking. I’ve had many young people ask me about my hikes in person, with a few asking if they could go on the next one. As cities expand ruthlessly and more and more people are online, the quest to get away from that magnifies in importance. Perhaps this generation can ignite the next powerful conservation movement.

As for my own quest for Carrizo Peak, it had to be postponed. We didn’t find the trailhead until we had been out exploring for hours. We took a raincheck from the mountain, marked down the trailhead, and vowed to return. The peak has been there for millions of years. It can wait a week or two.

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