Archive for August, 2012

1.)  Birkhead Mountains – North Carolina

It is easy to assume that a wilderness area in the great state of North Carolina would most likely be somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, especially one with the word “mountains” in its name.  To my surprise I found that the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness is far to the east of the Appalachians.  Northeast of Charlotte, in the hardwood forests of the Uwharrie National Forest, the wilderness area encompasses the northern end of the Uwharrie “Mountains.”

The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness was established in 1984 and is 5,025 acres–tiny by wilderness area standards.  What it lacks in size it makes up for in unique characteristics.  The Uwharrie Mountains are geologically the oldest mountains in North America.  The human history is also long.  Evidence of native inhabitance in this area goes back 12,000 years.  The wilderness was named after the Birkhead Family who settled the area in the 1850s.  A member of the family grew the “plantation” to a size of several thousand acres consisting of many small tenant farms.

To a wilderness philosopher the human history of this area presents an interesting situation.  Here was an area that lost its wilderness characteristics long before we, as a society, gained a wilderness ethos.  Before Thoreau, before Muir, before Leopold, this land was settled and farmed, and the wilderness area itself is now named after those who “tamed” it.  The implication of this is that we often say that, once wilderness is lost, it is lost forever.  In other words, once wilderness is developed or settled, we cannot make into wilderness again.  If we consider the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness to be real wilderness, then this may not always be true.  Perhaps this wilderness area represents an example of how areas currently said to lack wilderness qualities may one day be “reclaimed” as “wilderness” if certain circumstances and/or policies permit it (and the land recovers to a wilderness quality condition).

This wilderness area is characterized by forested ridges with small clear streams flowing through a thick ground cover–about what you would expect from a low elevation hilly wilderness area in North Carolina.  I can imagine the barking of the frogs at night as I write this.

Ice on the trees in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Uwharrie Farm.


2.)  Cougar Canyon Wilderness – Utah

Cougar Canyon Wilderness may be small, at just 10,648 acres, but it sits in big country and is part of a much larger wildland complex that encompasses much of the south Utah-Nevadah border region.  This wilderness is contiguous with two other wilderness areas and significant undeveloped (and unprotected) roadless areas.  The entire contiguous wildland complex is many times larger than the part of it that is named Cougar Canyon.

The Cougar Canyon Wilderness, administered by the BLM, is one of our newest designated wilderness areas, established in 2009 as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.

A dry country of pinon and juniper it nevertheless contains a couple of perennial streams even containing wild trout.  The landscape is hilly and its location is very remote.  I’m sure solitude is the norm here and I can just imagine the vividness of the starry sky here at night as coyotes yip in the distance.

The vivid landscape of Cougar Canyon Wilderness in SW Utah. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Land Trust.

3.)  Kalmiopsis Wilderness – Oregon

In 2002 a 500,000 acre lightning-caused fire (The Biscuit Fire) swept over the entire 180,095 acres of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.  The fire burned with varying intensity leaving a huge case study for wildland fire and forest ecology experts.

The Kalmiopsis is named after an endemic shrub, and indeed the area is well known specifically for its botanical diversity and uniqueness.  The area is also geologically complex, being part of the Klamath Mountains of SW Oregon and NW California.

Recreationally, the Kalmiopsis offers a wilderness mecca of rugged mountains and forest with deep valleys and canyons cut by several major wild waterways.  I’ve heard that some of the clearest flowing water in the world can be found in this part of the country and the photo below seems to support that reputation.

The clear Chetco River. Photo courtesy of Wilderness.net

4.)  Russian Wilderness – California

The small 12,000 acre Russian Wilderness, established in 1984, is often overlooked primarily because it is sandwiched by the huge Trinity Alps Wilderness to the south and the significant Marble Mountain Wilderness to the north.  But, it shouldn’t be overlooked.  The small mountainous area contains 22 lakes and is served by a good trail system including a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Russian Wilderness contains 17 different species of conifers, which Wilderness.net says may be a world record for “conifer diversity.” The wilderness is also known for its dense bear population.

A lake in the Russian Wilderness of California. Phoso courtesy of Zandona’ Outdoors.


5.)  Platte River Wilderness – Wyoming

Fly fishing, river rafting and kayaking are what bring most visitors to this area.  The 23,492 acre wilderness is located in southern Wyoming and a small 743 acre piece of it extends into northern Colorado.  The North Platte River flows north out of Colorado into Wyoming through North Gate Canyon.  A trail follows much of the river as well as a tributary, Douglas Creek, which also reportedly has great fishing.

This is rugged forested river canyon country.  No lakes.  No high alpine peaks dappled with snowfields.  Just a beautiful forest and canyon land with a wild river and that unmistakable western feel in the air that you get in this type of environment.

Stream and meadow in the Platte River Wilderness. Photo courtesy of Kifaru.






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