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A Week In Yellowstone's Thorofare: A Journey Through The Remotest Place

Author : Michael J. Yochim
Published : 2016-06-01

Editor's note: Michael J. Yochim's latest book, A Week In Yellowstone's Thorofare: A Journey Through The Remotest Place, is reviewed by Jeff Pappas, State Historic Preservation Officer with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Mike Yochim, through his two previous books, Yellowstone and the Snowmobile and Protecting Yellowstone has established himself as a legitimate voice and scholar of national park history.  Now supplemented by a third book, A Week in Yellowstone’s Thorofare, Yochim has transitioned to something vastly more personal and far less academic.  Diagnosed with ALS three years ago, the trajectory of Yochim’s active and engaged life came to a screeching halt, and so too did his long treks into Yellowstone’s vast wilderness.  A tragic story, one might think, but not for Yochim.  Instead it’s a story of friendship, wildness, and beauty.  But mostly it’s a story of love and expressing it for wilderness, and being grateful to these marvelous places we call national parks.

It’s a touching story, heading out for an 8-day trek with three close friends to explore Yellowstone’s Thorofare for perhaps the last time.  Yochim brilliantly weaves together a myriad of narratives, touching on the essential themes of his life, each day a composite of something fundamental to his past, and his tenuous future.  Though a quick read (192 pages of text), it acts like an opus, an outpouring of thought and reflection, at once critical of a consumer society hell-bent on paving every last bit of wilderness, and more alarmingly, a future world contending with the greatest challenge of our times; that of course is climate change.

As a writer, Yochim can best be described as fearless.  He’s direct, well informed, and unafraid to speak his mind.  In his two earlier books, Yochim’s razor-sharp focus called attention to misguided attempts by the Park Service to calculate the adverse impact from activities not in keeping with wilderness principles.  He wrote passionately about Yellowstone’s Winter Use Plan and its multiple iterations to regulate the expanding snowmobile industry.  He wrote about bison and brucellosis, science and politics.  He tackled the tough stuff and didn’t mince words.  He’s cynical about politics and its corrupting influence on park policy, and less than kind to people like Gale Norton and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who sided with the snowmobile lobby and their loud machines.  He’s like a modern-day Muir with a dash of Leopold. Indeed, the Land Ethic sits heavy with Yochim, as it does for so many others.

There’s a long and growing list of books and authors who have taken on the national parks.  Back in the day it was Alston Chase and Michael Frome.  Today it’s Richard West Sellars, Terry Tempest Williams, and Bill Tweed.  Now we can add Mike Yochim to the list.  Maybe not as poetic as Leopold or Muir but his passion can be felt on every page, cast by an unyielding commitment to wilderness, or more precisely the abstracted version coined by Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Yochim moves between material nature and his mature self, reflecting on a life, and memories, well served by the glorious musings of Yellowstone and other national parks.  For him, the bigger the place, the better. 

But this is where I diverge somewhat from Yochim.  The oft quoted essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness,” published in 1995 by historian William Cronon, began a conversation that still festers today.  Yochim studied under Cronon at UW Madison, and no doubt tucked away the inherent implication of Cronon’s thesis, that national parks, intentionally or not, serve to privilege a certain version of nature over everything else.  Just drive through Yosemite’s Tioga Pass and its grand, majestic gate.  The metaphorical statement alone is enough to imply that what lies ahead is more authentic, more real.  When Thoreau penned his famous quote about wildness, he did so at Walden Pond, a small provincial body of water literally within easy reach of Concord.  That wildness could be found in a tiny New England pond suggests something rather profound about time and space.

Of course this is not to diminish Yochim’s affinity for the great parks of the American West.  For those of us lucky enough to have access to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and so many others is a good thing, indeed, a great thing.  Yochim is part of a generation of thinkers, and doers, like Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Williams, whose intellectual and physical wellbeing is nurtured by unencumbered wilderness and the experiences these places provide.  But now life has thrown him a curveball, a dreaded disease that can’t be cured.  In the meantime, however, Yochim has lived more life, has seen more beauty, and walked more miles than Thoreau, Muir, and Emerson combined. 


Your friend and my nephew, Doug Hilborn, talks about how you influence his life. He's talked about your writing about Yellowstone National Park. We are lookong forward to reading your latest book.

You have been on my mind quite a bit recently as I make my way through this book and remember our trip to Arches together and visits to Yellowstone with you.  I'm impressed but not surprised to see the way in which you have establishd yourself as a voice of this rich and miraculous wilderness even as you fight your own battle.  Wish we could relive those EVST days again...

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