Would you take your young family on a week-long canoe trip through the most remote section of Maine, paddling through the rain and shooting through rapids? How about leading them on a four-day hiking trip through the Gila Wilderness Area in New Mexico, waking to frozen shoes and fording icy streams? Wouldn't the kids complain about the all day treks and being away from their friends, games, and shows? If you are Peter Stark, the answers are "yes," "yes," and "no." According to his book The Last Empy Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map, his son Skyler and daughter Molly are real troopers, having been on adventure vacations since infancy. Molly does once ask if they can stay in a four star hotel once they reach their destination, but she bravely paddles on.
In The Last Empty Places, Stark tells his family nature travel stories as a frame from which to hang his history of the American conservation movement. Each of his four essays features a trip to a "blank spot" on the U.S. map, the story of a great American naturalist, and stories about environmental abuse from the speculators, settlers, and industrialists who wanted to tame the land. His featured locations are in Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and New Mexico. His heroes include Henry David Thoreau, William Bartram, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. His villains include the British Army, U.S. Forest Service, and Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.
The point of Stark's elegant essays, of course, is that the empty places on maps often preserve what is truly worthwhile in life. The Last Empty Places promotes both reading classic authors of natural history and looking for wild places in your own region.
Stark, Peter. The Last Empy Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map. Ballantine Books, 2010. ISBN 9780345495372.