Righting the Commons in Red Rock Canyon
In this essay we examine the coil-bound notebooks kept at the summit of Turtlehead Peak in Red Rock Canyon, a recreational hiking trail on the immediate outskirts of Las Vegas. Of the many different sorts of entries, a “nature-culture binary” is the most dominant and unique pattern to be found in the journals. We argue that this nature-culture binary serves as a piece of rhetorical equipment useful for navigating the daunting ecological complexities of everyday life. Invoking culturally familiar tropes of sublimity-and-banality, hikers renew their civic vows by “righting” themselves through the journals. We thus argue that the notebooks ultimately serve as the locus of a “becoming-common” within discourse. At bottom, the nature-culture binary enables hikers to affirm—and in affirming make available, and in making available make possible—the noblest ideals and loftiest hopes of a shared material existence. We conclude by noting a darker implication of this rhetorical performance, namely that the seeds of a more harmonious ecological future are sown alongside a dangerously innocent self-righteousness.