Edward Abbey
Copyright © 2022 Raymond Cannefax

    Edward Paul Abbey should never have been revealed to me. His words are those of the teacher I had sought throughout my life. Prior to reading Abbey's works, my dear friend and mentor, Sammy Freeman, a great man, mentor, motivator and father image, provided me guidance I had sought throughout my life. Sammy provided me a similar sort of visceral knowledge and understanding as Edward Abbey provides in respect to remaining humble, sharing knowledge, continual learning, and keeping the wild, wild. Sammy's input was in the realm of business and commerce, in the realm of relationships, professional and personal, as well as tons of sound advice in respect to raising a family.  Abbey's guidance was not family oriented, but environmentally focused and with a strong emphasis on America's great south-west deserts, particularly the four-corners region.  Sammy was also my boss for about six years, when we worked for the same company where we met, Sprint Telecom (now T-Mobile), and Sammy remains a dear and treasured friend.  We worked together in several companies after Sprint.

    Unlike Sammy's teachings, Abbey's books take us through thousands of years of human presence in America's great south-west deserts, the barren wilderness I have learned to love and respect. Edward Abbey was born too early, perhaps I was born too late. I do wish I had been able to join him whilst roaming the vast wilderness of the great south-west and learning from him directly the lessons he delivers through his books, lessons of how to avoid destroying the basic elements of life that continue to survive in our untamed deserts. I fear we are losing that battle with the Bureau of Land Management having free reign over millions of acres of public lands and all the animals to which they are home, some of which, lands and animal species, have been destroyed, without regard,  to make that land accessible to industry - oil, gas, helium, uranium and other mineral deposits, retrieving a variety of natural resources, and providing grazing for livestock. Coyotes and mountain lions have been virtually eliminated, causing other species, like deer, to overpopulated and die from starvation. 

    The Bureau of Land Management has a tough job when one considers all the land for which they are responsible to manage, maintain, and on and on.  Four-wheelers and off-road vehicles are wonderful, but the attitude of many of their operators are responsible for non-caring and ridiculous destruction of so much of our deserts, particularly in south-eastern Utah, the 4-corners region, destroying not only necessary natural resources, but impacting the sources of food and water for our desert wildlife.  BLM law enforcement officers, only three for the massive and high-use south-eastern four-corners Utah desert region, have shared horror stories of the destructive behavior caused by off-road vehicle operators that they continue to witness, and for which they continue to issue citations.  "It is so horrid, I could write citations throughout my entire shift, throughout the entire day, every day of the year, without taking a break," I was advised by one of the BLM Law Enforcement officers working out of the Moab, Utah office.

    As I admire the content of Abby's classic books, Desert Solitaire, Hidden Canyon and The Monkeywrench Gang, as well as Desert Images by photographer David Muench, I have gained knowledge from the writings by Abbey regarding historic data related directly to each of the photos in Muench's book. I am able to mentally envision many of those historic structures, along with the rapids of the great rivers still available to us, and the surrounding canyon walls of the now dammed Colorado river, as I read Abbey's books. Ed Abbey’s blunt and honest commentary regarding the great importance of the petroglyphs, pictographs, and structures of the Anasazi now submerged by Lake Powell, making then no longer accessible, is a complaint that was not declared loudly enough.  The importance of these submerged ancient structures and art makes one wonder why our government can do what is prohibited by law, of our citizens. 

     Abbey and other authors detail the beauty of the remaining canyons and rivers as they navigated the rapids in the classic book, Hidden Canyon. Some of the spots defined in his books I have visited.  Many I must still seek and find, and many can now be viewed only in historic photographs because mankind and our governmental action has destroyed so much of the history of the Ancients who lived in the four-corners region of Utah.  As mankind progresses, perhaps we will be able to venture beyond the "No Trespassing" signs to explore that which remains wild and continue to try to decipher the messages the Ancients have left us, painted onto canyon walls, and carved into rock walls and huge boulders.  In late December 2022 I learned that there was a quest to drain Lake Powell, making works of the ancients, those submerged by Lake Powell, available, once again, for research.  With the increasing demand for water related to the growth of Utah, Nevada, Arizona and southern California, I am not confident that draining the lake will ever happen by human action.  But a good drought might provide the answer needed to lower Lake Powell and expose the wonders of the Ancients. The drought that ended in late-2022 lowered Lake Powell enough to expose some of these ancient structures, but the heavy winter snows and heavier rains during the first half of 2023 brought the lake's level back to where all ancient structurers were submerged again.  Yet, the early winter of 2023 weather pattern may be an indicator of the drought not having ended.

    On the other hand, I have begun venturing to places that Abbey may not have explored, or if he did, did not write about – Hovenweep (Desolated Canyon in Hopi) he did visit and declared it was a "a most weird, beautiful and magical land." There are numerous other remnants left by the Ancients that abound in the vastness of the Colorado Plateau in the four-corners region. On Navajo lands and near the Hatch Trading Post which Abbey visited regularly, wild horses continue to roam free, leaping over pipelines flowing crude or natural gas as they enjoy the Cajon Mesa, along with free-range, grazing cattle.   

    Much of the vast expanse of the 45-mile long, Nine Mile Canyon, and its smaller tributary canyons are on private property. There are still spots in those canyons that potentially remain unexplored. Being about 120 miles north of Arches National Park, where Abbey worked as the Park's first official Ranger, Ed ventured into Nine Mile Canyon and some of the surrounding canyons and refers to those visits in his books. Nine Mile Creek flows into the Green River, one of Abbey's beloved waterways.

    I have risked venturing into places, even if fenced and posted “Private Property”, to photographically document the presence of the Ancients. This is not a display of disrespect for someone’s land, leased or owned, but rather a statement that historical remnants on such land utilized mostly for grazing, or future natural resource exploration, is still the land of the people, even though privately owned or leased. The historic remnants behind "No Trespassing" signs are human history and continue to belong to the people. It should be unlawful to fence out those who come to explore the unexplored, those who respect the land and its owners, those who come to learn from what remains of those who inhabited that land thousands of years ago.  Twice I was approached by armed property owners or lessees, informing me that I was trespassing and could be shot.  One such event took place just north of Bluff, Utah by a considerably unpleasant man on horseback, revolver on his hip, rifle in a scabbard.  The old west remains!  If only I'd had a Smith & Wesson holstered on my hip, we could have engaged in an old-fashioned, western shoot-out.  

    What seems to be coming common is that fewer and fewer of us are taking up the cause to protect lands that government agencies allow to be desecrated for the sake of extracting the natural resources that lie beneath those lands.  Reasoning with an armed rancher is one risk I had not considered encountering as I wandered up that canyon outside of Bluff. Along with being instructed to turn back I was also advised to heed the signs posted on the gates or fences. That rancher or cowhand's claim that "We have the right to shoot trespassers," is not true unless I was in the act of stealing the cattle, but then again....  Looking up at that serious sounding cowboy on horseback was a touch intimidating, but also invigorating. I was happy to recognize that some of the old west remains wild in all aspects. As I tried reasoning with the man on horseback, his response was: "If I let you in, all your city folk buddies are gonna come down here and trample my land."  We finally did agree that if I told no one of my discoveries in that small canyon, I could remain and photograph the historic remains.

    Our nation's National Parks are beautiful and well maintained, and for many of our nation's citizens, these Parks placate us by providing easy access to nature and to exceptional beauty. For many there no longer exists a need or desire to venture into the unknown wild, to venture into places not served by paved roads, or providing groomed campgrounds with bathrooms, administration buildings and snack shops, or to venture out and experience nature as it was before the NPS refined our natural wonders with groomed and wonderful trails that makes the interior of the parks easily accessible to all.  It should be noted that this is not a complaint, but a comment to evoke thought and encourage readers to venture into the wild.  The risk of venturing into the wild as Abbey did, recognizing and accepting associated danger from nature, has not diminished. Though the NPS and the BLM try to eliminate risk, risk is accepted by those who want to enjoy the wild, thus there remains the reward Hemingway addressed in his statement "What Reward, without Risk?" Reasoning with an armed rancher is one risk I had not considered encountering as I wandered up that canyon outside Bluff. Along with being instructed to turn back I was also advised to heed the signs posted on the gates or fences.  That rancher or cowhand's claim that "We have the right to shoot trespassers," is not true unless I was in the act of stealing the cattle.  Looking up at that serious sounding cowboy on horseback was a touch intimidating, but also invigorating. I was happy to recognize that some of the old west remains wild in all aspects.  Reasoning with the guy on horseback, I recognized I continued to adhered to Hemmingway's philosophy about risk being required for an appropriate reward, I recognized that I also tend to follow Abbey's quote: "Resist Much, Obey Little!" when necessary. That incident provided the opportunity to practice these to philosophies simultaneously.  Actions I reflect back on tied to the wild remaining within the west.

    Throughout his life, Edward Abbey, fought vigilantly to preserve what was wild. With his books, he passed knowledge of the wild to the masses. Along with his compatriots, Abbey did engage in some of the monkey wrenching described in his book, The Monkey Wrench Gang. He did so intentionally and specifically in an attempt to help us hold onto the wild that remains, to show us that something can be done even if not politically correct. Hence, I consider it a blessing that I did not have the opportunity to get acquainted with Abbey, his philosophies, and the anarchistic views and actions that were Edward Abbey. Had I met Abbey in my youth, I could have become that little boy who ran off with the circus.  

    In a more refined way, Wallace Stegner delivered the same message as Edward Abbey. Both of these great minds worked diligently to provide information to future generations so they may take steps to help America retain the wild and keep beautiful places in their natural state. Others have been as drawn to the desert as well and were as committed as these two authors who lived out their lives in America's south-west as they wrote of it in an effort to bring greater awareness to the world. None have been as recognized, or perhaps verbal as Abbey and Stegner.  The artist, Georgia O'Keefe, provided us visual images with her paintings of what the west provides mankind.  May they rest in peace knowing the knowledge held within their books continue to inspire and drive future generations.

    Reading Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner does for me what Sammy Freeman did for me in person. Sammy taught me about the business world, which was not much calmer than Abbey's and Stegner's wild west. Sammy also taught me the lessons of life that are usually learned from one's father. He taught me the great value of morality and to accept loss with dignity, but to continue to strive to achieve what I had set out to achieve. All three of these great men made a commitment to leave the world a better place than it would have been where it not for their efforts. Abbey and Stegner did so with America's wilderness. Sammy did so within America's corporate jungle. Though I may regret not running away with Edward Abbey's circus and joining the monkey wrench boys, I am grateful for the calming restraints of Sammy Freeman, the man who taught me to be an anarchist in the business world and fight battles in board rooms that were different, yet similar to those battles Abbey fought to defend the need for wilderness.  In those corporate boardrooms, Sammy and I had the good fortune of outdrawing those whose "heads weren't screwed on right."  

    Now in my seventies, I continue to admire the life guide whom I have known for over twenty years, an individual with a greater in-depth understanding of human behavior than most I know, Mr. Sammy Freeman. The exception being my German grandmother, Maria Happach, who raised me until the age of ten and continues to be the wisest person I have ever known.  Yet, from Sammy I learned things that my grandmother would not have been able to teach me.  

    To Edward Abbey, the anarchist, to Wallace Stegner, the intellect, to Georgia O'Keefe, the artists, 
and to Sammy Freeman, the mentor and refined white collar anarchist, my hat is off.  Thank you for  
all you have given me and continue to give the human race through your teachings. Sammy and I 
continue  to  enjoy wonderful conversations,  years after not enjoying each other's company in 
board rooms or just sitting around, conversing.  ​There clearly are bonds that time and distance 
will never erase.