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In Search of Your Own Private Idaho

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“In Search of Your Own Private Idaho” was published in the New York Times, August 21, 1994.

DEFENDING our territory – a fir­needle-strewn campsite near a lake – wasn’t what my husband and I had in mind for our trip last August to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, at 2.4 million acres the largest chunk of protect­ed wild land in the contiguous United States. Yet there we were in a backpacker’s stand­off. It was a cool, rainy afternoon, and we had been drowsily reading in our tent when voices began to float across the water. Fish­ermen, we figured. Then we heard, close by, “Well, if these people don’t mind, we’ll just camp here.”

We popped quickly out of the tent. There were eight of them, two of us, and one fire ring. “Well, we do mind,” my husband, Ralph, said as politely as possible. After some sullen milling around, they hoisted their packs up under their ponchos and trekked back around the shoreline to camp about 100 yards away.