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Wildly Civilized

Good inventions can start anywhere in the world. Oftentimes, these wonders then quickly make their way around the world. Examples include: Rock n’ Roll, sushi, George Clooney, scotch and forks. Still, other terrific things are invented but remain stubbornly in their country or continent of birth. Examples of this might be: Bidets, neighborhood pubs, and topless beaches, all of which are still mostly marooned in Europe. But of all the great inventions from the Continent that should have crossed the ocean to our fair shores, but somehow did not, the most egregious is surely the alpine oasis or back country bistro.

I’ll never forget the first time I went hiking in the Alps. I trekked up a quiet trail for well over an hour until a reached a secluded lake surrounded by forest and solitude.

Except for the little restaurant sitting right in front of me.

At first, I was kind of shocked. This was the “wilderness,” a place of natural sanctity for quiet meditation and forest bathing. Thoreau, Abbey, Muir. I was a bit offended. On the other hand, they had omelets and I was hungry. Even more exciting was that they had beer, which I find complements an omelet nicely after a robust trail tramp. It was a revelation. The restaurant wasn’t a gaudy affair. It was a suitably rustic little wood-frame charmer, just perched on the shoreline. The food (and beer) did not arrive via a noisy truck pulling up to the loading dock. It was brought in by backpack. And yet, it was readily affordable, even to the student backpacker budget. I suspect they must subsidize it. We, smartly, throw our subsidies to oil companies and tech giants instead.

As our travels through various European ranges continued over the years, I discovered to my absolute delight that these gasthauses and alpenbars were everywhere, but as perfectly placed as a piece of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, never marring their surrounding beauty, always accentuating it. This one in Bavaria carried their kegs up to the high country using a tiny ski lift.

And so, the question remains, how on earth do we not have these in the United States? With all due respect to John Muir and our true areas of wilderness, we also have plenty of National Forests, BLM land, State Parks etc. where there is no explicit prohibition against the odd high peaks pub. Even the National Parks are full of hotels, stores, maintenance buildings, fire towers, etc. Why not a cozy café up at elevation? A lakeside lounge in the valley? A tea house up in the Tetons? I promise you that you will never pack another granola bar again.


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