Best American Adventures: Backpack the Hayduke Trail

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By Doug Schnitzspahn; Photograph by Lee Cohen

Edward Abbey, who spent his formative years
working in the parks of southern Utah, used to suggest that every time
you see one of those national forest signs that say “Land of Many
Uses,” you change the last word to “Abuses.”

A Vietnam vet turned radical conservationist, George Hayduke is the hero in Abbey’s famed novel The Monkey Wrench Gang,
which chronicles the adventures of ecowarriors sabotaging extractive
and exploitive industries in order to save public lands from
destruction. Hayduke is a sort of environmental superhero, evading the
law while he defends the land he loves—and inspiring hundreds of
Abbey’s readers to, in fact, change the words on those signs.

It’s
only fitting that an 800-mile (1,287-kilometer) trail that began as a
semisecret underground project be named after Abbey’s folk hero. The
Hayduke Trail was created by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella, who wanted to
go out on a long, Abbey-esque trek that celebrated the land. They set a route that spans the Colorado’s
Plateau’s must-see list of postcard landscapes, starting in Arches
National Park (where Abbey worked), heading through Canyonlands
National Park, down into Capitol Reef National Park, across the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument, into Bryce Canyon National Park
and the Grand Canyon, and finally ending up in Zion National Park.

Many
Americans hit these sites in an RV, but the Hayduke way requires an
incredible amount of resourcefulness, wriggling through slot canyons,
route-finding, careful logistics, and luck—in short the way Abbey
wanted Americans to experience their public lands. Completing the
entire trail can take up to three months. Go ahead. Abuse yourself and
enjoy the land.

Need to Know: Find maps and hiking information at www.hayduketrail.org.

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