With the relatively safe dissolution of the Republic of Bundystan in Oregon behind us — that kindergarten experiment in armed narcissism as political grievance — we should take a moment to thank the Bundys for the sliver of good that came of it all: a renewed dialogue about public lands. To be sure, as the saga boiled, social media brimmed with the usual hyperventilation and theatrical outrage that passes for spirited conversation on the Internet. But it was also heartening to read, in many cases, impassioned, well-reasoned defenses of both the spirit and idea of public lands. This isn’t to completely discredit the feelings of the Bundys — and make no mistake, this was about feelings masquerading as political philosophy. I’m sure we’ve all been so goaded by frustration that sometimes we, too, just want to revert to our 9-year-old selves, retreat to a fort in the wilderness and eat free snacks, but, fortunately, most of us realize we live in a shared world called Grownupland.
Still, whatever side anyone took, all those feelings are a reminder of how personal public land is to us, how emotionally and imaginationally invested we are in it. It’s not a paradox. If our lives in our offices and at our kitchen tables and at red lights and the grocery store are episodic, the outdoors offer a more generous narrative span that holds the promise of the epic. In other words, we go outside for a story.
It’s a theory that comes to mind, anyway, when I consider the stories we received from local hikers in “Trails and tribulations” (p. 44). These brief sketches of decided misadventure and mishap don’t just capture the lighter (and, in some cases, darker) side of nature. They also illuminate human nature, revealing pivotal moments of courage, determination, risk and, in some cases, bad luck and irresponsibility. Hiker and wilderness activist Jose Witt got hung up on a rock-climbing excursion and nearly lost his hand; Andrew Lanfear saved his nephew from a possibly fatal fall; Penny Sinisi did fall (spoiler: not fatally). There are plenty of scrapes and scars but, more importantly, lessons and insights too.
But don’t let their harrowing tales put you off from diving into our main feature, “This hike, it’s personal” (p. 82). Whether you’re a seasoned trailmaster, a dog-lover or you hit the weekend trails with toddlers in tow, we’ve got plenty of hikes to fit your lifestyle, mood and skill level. Written by Alan Gegax, a Desert Companion contributor who heads up one of the valley’s most successful hiking Meetup groups, this personalized list will keep you on the trail for months to come.
Our cover feature, “‘I would have done it for free,’” (p. 70) shines a light on a different kind of personal story, but one with far-reaching implications. Staff writer Heidi Kyser investigates a side of professional dance that gets lost in the usual Vegas glitz: the frequent, sometimes chronic injuries dancers sustain as part of the job — and the alarming lack of institutional support for their well-being. With the recent closing of Jubilee!, there’s been a renewed appreciation for the showgirl as revered Las Vegas icon. That’s great. But icons are not abstractions. Kyser tells the stories of these dancers who work the Strip stages as costumed and painted kinetic sculptures — but, as her article reveals, after the show, they’re human through and through.