In the summer of 1922, Aldo Leopold travelled on horseback up into the headwaters of New Mexico's Gila River and proposed to his bosses at the Forest Service that 500,000 acres of that rough country be set aside as roadless wilderness. Thus was born America's first – the world's first – designated wilderness. A century later, writer-activists, including Indigenous voices, come together to celebrate this vast, rugged landscape, the Yellowstone of the Southwest. Contributors include Michael P. Berman, Philip Connors, Martha Schumann Cooper, Beto O'Rourke, Martin Heinrich, Pam Houston, Priyanka Kumar, Laura Paskus, Sharman Apt Russell, Jakob Sedig, Leeanna T. Torres, and JJ Amaworo Wilson.
Elizabeth Hightower Allen is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, where she spent twenty-plus years editing award-winning features and writing columns and book reviews. A transplanted southerner turned westerner, she lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she edits books and articles about public lands, memoir, and adventure, and serves on the advisory board to Writers on the Range. She and her husband and daughter spend as much time as they can exploring the rivers and mountains of the West – while also making it back to Tennessee fairly frequently for ham biscuits. Her mind is blown by the rugged vastness of the Gila.
"Amid brilliant and gorgeous nature writing, the collection aims to broaden traditional views of wilderness management – 'to reimagine a land ethic that is inclusive, whole, and wild.' This anthology is a great addition to the literature of the American Southwest, natural history, and environmental conservation. It melds lush nature writing with thought-provoking calls for alternative environmental policies for the Gila and other national wilderness treasures."
– Foreword Reviews
"Lyrical [...] [these] stories sing like a chorus on a host of issues, including the notion of who can own a wilderness."
– New Mexico Magazine
"Engaging and purposeful [...] a multi-voiced call for a reinvigorated and reimagined wilderness ethic in an era of social and biological crises."
– Washington Independent Review of Books
"The Gila Wilderness is both a landmark in conservation history and a living, evolving place. First and Wildest is an elegant, impassioned, and timely tribute to its remarkable past and present."
– Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction
"Thorough, profound, multifaceted. Whether you call this place the Pueblo ancestral home or the Apache's Northern Stronghold or the Mexicans' stolen territory or the Anglos' wilderness, it's a range and a river that gives humans eternal gifts. Explore it here – then protect it forever."
– Mark Sundeen, author of The Unsettlers
"The Gila Wilderness occupies a seminal place in the history of conservation and the philosophy of land use. And now, as this awesome kingdom of rugged real estate approaches one hundred years of age as a preserve, here is an eloquent, lyrical, and exceedingly well-timed paean – a chorus of diverse voices, united in their love for this important and sometimes overlooked gem of the American Southwest."
– Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Blood and Thunder
"A century ago, the prehistoric beauty and rugged diversity of the Gila region of southwest New Mexico inspired a US Forest Service ranger to propose the creation of the Gila Wilderness, the first such designation in the United States. That ranger was the great naturalist Aldo Leopold, and as this engaging collection of writing shows, he was not alone among people stretching from ten thousand years ago till today to be deeply moved by the Gila's specialness or deeply alarmed by its fragility."
– Robert Wilson, editor, The American Scholar
"The Gila – and this great coterie of writers – tells us to know the earth, first know its wildness, a wildness that serves as the only path to our own true heart. Here, indeed, in the Gila Wilderness is the planet's essence."
– Bob Shacochis, author of Kingdoms in the Air and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul