As a fire lookout, Philip Connors called New Mexico's Gila National Forest home. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 1924 this nationally protected area was established (at the advocacy of conservationist Aldo Leopold) as "the first designated wilderness in the country."
This means that "there are no roads; the only travel permitted is by foot or horseback. You will find no logging, resorts or commercial uses of any kind except grazing," which is why Connors hiked in and out to his tower and chopped his wood by hand. Today, it remains the largest, roadless wilderness in the national forest system.
Contained within the Gila National Forest is the Gila National Wilderness, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, and the Blue Range Wilderness. These areas are distinguished by great eco- and biodiversity: The U.S. Forest Service notes that there are elevations ranging from 4,200 to 10,900 feet, including "rugged mountains, deep canyons, meadows, and semi-desert country... ocotillo [pictured] and cacti are found in the lower elevations, and juniper, pine, aspen, and spruce-fir forests are plentiful in the high mountains. Wildlife such as the black bear, mountain lion, elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, and wild turkey inhabit the forest while the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and the red-tailed hawk soar in the wind."
Along with a reading from Fire Season, the video below shows Connors's tower, cabin, his dog Alice, and the multitude of beautiful, migrating hummingbirds he observes.
This article was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the
February 2012 paperback release.
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