Most people will never get the chance to visit southwest Oregon's infamous, gargantuan, congressionally designated Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, and of those few who do, even fewer will see its remote interior.
The Kalmiopsis' vast, barren ridge tops, sharp canyons and fire-shaped forest are just too far, too remote and too unforgiving. It's no surprise nobody goes there.
But Rene Casteran's 2011 self-published memoir, "Taking Away Only Memories," sheds light on a wilderness very seldom seen, even in photography. The coffee-table book contains a collection of Casteran's journal entries and pictures from his 1986-2008 tenure as the Kalmiopsis wilderness ranger, as well as reflections that carry a tone of humorous afterthought always fueled by the author's unwavering wilderness ethic.
It's a must-see for anyone fascinated by the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area and a primary source for those interested in area history.
Throughout the book you'll find photos of cabins long since destroyed, mining operations invalidated now, and green, forest mountainscapes that were left charred in 2002. The pictures are connected by dated journal entries that describe Casteran's days, weeks, months and years. Stories from the Kalmiopsis are as entertaining as the characters that define them.
Like the photographed saga of a group who crafted a raft by connecting inner tubes with a cargo net, then floated down the Kalmiopsis' dangerous Illinois River with a keg of beer. Or the story about another group who parachuted a large cache of supplies into the Tincup Trail, which has a narrative all its own.
Other tales include those of fiercely independent miners, lost hikers, wildfires and other quirky adventures you'd expect but never predict. The story most familiar is environmentalist Lou Gold's seasonal occupation of Bald Mountain in the north Kalmiopsis area, which at the time received national attention. The activist posted up for 12 seasons in an effort to halt controversial road development and timber sales.
Casteran tells the story through his lens.
"While we may have shared some of the same environmental concerns and goals, I never agreed with the political nature of his presence on the mountain," he writes. "I was a Forest Service wilderness ranger and I believed in the Wilderness Act and I was committed to do my best to ensure its implementation."
Casteran also sheds light on the historic Biscuit Fire, which happened toward the end of his career in 2002. "The wilderness does look different but it was not damaged," he writes.
While most of Casteran's pictures do not appear to be high resolution or to have been shot with a professional camera, they are of very wild places where few have taken photos — the places most professional photographers with professional cameras just can't or don't want to go.
More strikingly, the pictures contain people, a rarity now in Oregon's third largest, least visited wilderness.
You can find a free PDF of "Taking Away Only Memories" from SOU's Southern Oregon Digital Archives program (soda.sou.edu). There are two copies for the public at the Hannon Library at SOU. One is on reserve and must be kept in the library, and the other can be checked out.
PDF file: http://goo.gl/gxvcc
Freelance writer Gabe Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at email@example.com.