The US Department of Agriculture designates certain remote sections of National Forests as Wilderness areas to preserve and protect them in a presumed natural state. However, taking a close look while walking through the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe California, the Federal designation does not mean protected areas are pristine wildernesses. Many signs of human impact appear to the discerning eye throughout this secluded Northern California region.
The most extensive transformation of the land is the vast Aloha reservoir, which submerged a broad valley and obliterated several smaller lakes. Additionally, stone and masonry dams have enlarged several backcountry lakes, including Gilmore and Schmidell lakes, to regulate the water outflow. Most backcountry lakes are well stocked with trout and other species to the delight of sport fishermen.
While roads and motorized vehicles are prohibited, the well-constructed hiking trails show signs of sophisticated human engineering. Trail makers dynamited routes through steep rock sections leaving telltale round holes which once held the blasting rods. To aid hikers, trail builders cut steps into hilly sections, and constructed switchbacks reinforced with substantial rock walls to provide a solid footbed. Finally, expertly placed rocks and logs aid stream crossings that keep boots and feet dry.
Even in the most remote areas, signs of human activity are amply evident. Rock cairns mark the way for intrepid hikers transversing sparsely traveled regions. Well curated tent sites smoothed for restful sleep greet backpacking campers. Most strikingly, throughout day and night, thunderous sounds eminate from US Air Force F-35 fighters practicing their missions.
While our designated wilderness areas are roadless and are not inhabited, they are not true wildernesses. Balancing preserving beauty and nature, many humans improvements are made to provide visitor comforts. This modest but noticeable transformation helps engender our enjoyment of the magnificent vistas and wondrous landscape. However, we should recognize the signs of humankind in the environment. True wilderness is hard to find and even harder to visit. And that is a good thing as modest improvements facilitate people enjoying the wilder sections of our public parks and forests.