Windshield Wilderness

Cars, Roads, and Nature in Washington's National Parks

David Louter
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2006. Paperback 2010
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 30 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

In his engaging book Windshield Wilderness, David Louter explores the relationship between automobiles and national parks, and how together they have shaped our ideas of wilderness. National parks, he argues, did not develop as places set aside from the modern world, but rather came to be known and appreciated through technological progress in the form of cars and roads, leaving an enduring legacy of knowing nature through machines.

With a lively style and striking illustrations, Louter traces the history of Washington State's national parks - Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades - to illustrate shifting ideas of wilderness as scenic, as roadless, and as ecological reserve. He reminds us that we cannot understand national parks without recognizing that cars have been central to how people experience and interpret their meaning, and especially how they perceive them as wild places.

Windshield Wilderness explores what few histories of national parks address: what it means to view parks from the road and through a windshield. Building upon recent interpretations of wilderness as a cultural construct rather than as a pure state of nature, the story of autos in parks presents the preservation of wilderness as a dynamic and nuanced process.Windshield Wilderness illuminates the difficulty of separating human-modified landscapes from natural ones, encouraging us to recognize our connections with nature in national parks.
David Louter is a historian with the National Park Service in Seattle, Washington.

"What Windshield Wilderness has to say about the changing role of automobiles in the twentieth-century American experience of wild nature will be of interest to anyone who cares not just about the three parks whose histories it explores-Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades-but parks and wild places all across the nation."
-William Cronon, from the Foreword

"In this compelling book David Louter takes a seeming oxymoron-a windshield wilderness, a wild area seen from a car on an expensive and carefully engineered road-and uses it as an avenue for understanding the evolution of national parks."
-Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, Stanford University

"David Louter's Windshield Wilderness considerably advances our understanding of the relationship between the coming of modernity in the shape of the automobile and the idea of wilderness. Gracefully crafted and exquisitely argued, it is a marvelous addition to the literature of Western, environmental, and national park history."
-Hal Rothman, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Nevada at Las Vegas

"Windshield Wilderness tackles an issue of great significance, both in terms of historical inquiry and contemporary public policy. If adopted by managers of reserves, its ideas and proposals could influence the direction of current park policy."
-Peter Blodgett, Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts, Huntington Library

"David Louter is the beginning of a new generation of national park historians. His lively style draws me from page to page."
-John Reynolds, former Deputy Director, National Park Service

Foreword by William Cronon
Introduction: Nature as We See It
1. Glaciers and Gasoline: Mount Rainier as a Windshield Wilderness
2. The Highway in Nature: Mount Rainier and the National Park Service
3. Wilderness with a View: Olympic and the New Roadless Park
4. A Road Runs Through It: A Wilderness Park for the North Cascades
5. Wilderness Threshold: North Cascades and a New Concept of National Parks
Selected Bibliography

"At its heart this book raises important questions about wilderness, democracy, and consumption: Is wilderness possible in a democratic consumer society that demands widespread public access?"
-Western Historical Quarterly

"This is a fine, thoughtful book, one that connects the reader to familiar experiences in provocative ways. Excellent maps and photographs provide a means of relating the narrative to park landscapes. Louter demonstrates a thorough command of the relevant literature."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"A fascinating story of how the National Park Service managed to accommodate changing and contradictory ideas about the ideal relationship between nature and cars."
-Technology and Culture

"Louter reminds us of the contingency and complexity of 'wilderness,' and moves us beyond the simplistic 'frontier Eden' critiques which have limited our understanding of this surprisingly malleable concept."
-Journal of the West

"Windshield Wilderness. . . .is well-documented and includes an excellent bibliography. . . Anyone interested in the literature of the United States' conservation movement will profit from reading this book."

"Scholars will certainly benefit from the precision of Louter's discussions, and readers interested in the intersection between bureaucracy, environment, and wilderness advocacy will find this book invaluable."
-Oregon Historical Quarterly