I needed air, sunlight, solitude, the murmur of breezes moving through leaves. So I took a Friday off recently and zipped up to Red Rock for some defrag. I always forget how popular Red Rock National Conservation Area is — and, because of that popularity, how mediated it is these days as an official complex for outdoor recreation, with its ticket gateways, visitors center, and parking lots bookmarking its major attractions. When I rolled up, traffic was already backed to the 159, which gave my day trip a secondary objective: I not only needed to get away, but I’d need to get away from everyone else getting away. I’m no rock-climber or backcountry adventurer who can leave the world behind by dint of superior strength, courage or will; at the end of the easy Pine Creek trail, I simply scrambled a ways up a cliff to wedge myself into an alcove like some creepy monk. In the lull between hikers coming and going, silence settled back in; birds, lizards and butterflies returned to do whatever it is they do when we’re not around loudly taking selfies. I zenned out, realized I left my phone in the car, momentarily freaked out about dying alone at the claws of a wendigo, then got over that and zenned out again.
In a world where big cities and techno-sprawl seem to make for an increasingly small planet, our relationship with nature is changing. It’s not just a place or a thing. It’s a precious resource and a delicate public amenity. With that in mind, our feature story by Alan Gegax and Heidi Kyser, “Off the beaten path” (p. 53), considers that relationship while celebrating lesser-known hikes that are no less incredible than the marquee stars of the map. Best of all, when you get away on one of these trails, it creates a little more breathing room for everyone else out there — hikers, birds and lizards alike.