South Window Arch, part of Arches National Park, Utah, frames Turret Arch. Hikers on the left put the enormous, erosion-carved arches in perspective! Although Edward Abbey worked at 16 national parks, Arches National Park is most associated with the controversial environmentalist. His time working as ranger in Arches inspired his collection of essays, Desert Solitare: A Season in the Wilderness.

Photograph by Bruce Dale, National Geographic

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  • On January 29, 1927, Edward Abbey was born in Home, Pennsylvania. Abbey became one of the most influential and controversial environmentalists of the 20th century.
     
    The environment and habitats of the American Southwest captivated Abbey during a trip he took after high school. He went on to work as a park ranger in such diverse landscapes as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona; Glacier National Park, Montana; Everglades National Park, Florida; Lassen Volcanic National Park, California; and Arches National Park, Utah. His experiences in the isolated desert of Arches inspired Abbey’s collection of essays, Desert Solitare.
     
    Abbey was passionate in his support for national parks, but increasingly critical of their management. He opposed industrial development and the park service’s reliance on cars and technology-based tourism
     
    This criticism inspired Abbey’s novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. The misfit “gang” uses illegal, nonviolent acts of sabotage to prevent industrial development of wilderness areas. The title is taken from a character throwing a wrench into a moving piece of machinery to stop it from working. 
     
    The Monkey Wrench Gang was enormously influential among radical environmentalists, inspiring groups to disable industrial equipment, block roadways, and graffiti tools and machinery used to develop wilderness areas. (One of Abbey’s popular quotes is “Keep America Beautiful—Burn a Billboard!”) Such “monkeywrenching” acts of sabotage can result in economic and physical damage to property, and even threaten people’s lives. For these reasons, the controversial term “eco-terrorism” is sometimes used to refer to some radical environmentalists.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    captivate Verb

    to hold the attention of.

    controversial Noun

    questionable or leading to argument.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    development Noun

    construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

    disable Verb

    to weaken or make useless.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    environmentalist Noun

    person who studies or works to protect the Earth's ecosystems.

    equipment Noun

    tools and materials to perform a task or function.

    essay Noun

    short piece of prose, usually nonfiction and on a specific topic.

    graffiti Plural Noun

    (singular: graffito) writings or drawings that have been illegally scribbled, scratched, or sprayed in a public space.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    illegal Adjective

    forbidden by law.

    influential Adjective

    important; having the ability to lead the opinions or attitudes of others.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    machinery Noun

    mechanical appliances or tools used in manufacturing.

    national park Noun

    geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

    novel Noun

    fictional narrative or story.

    park ranger Noun

    person who protects and informs the public about local, state, and national parks. Also called a forest ranger.

    passionate Adjective

    enthusiastic and emotional.

    property Noun

    goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

    sabotage Noun

    action aimed at weakening, destroying, or delaying an action or set of initiatives.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    terrorism Noun

    use of violence and threats of violence to influence political decisions.

    tourism Noun

    the industry (including food, hotels, and entertainment) of traveling for pleasure.

    violent Noun

    strong, destructive force.

    wilderness Noun

    environment that has remained essentially undisturbed by human activity.

    Encyclopedic Entry: wilderness