In the first part of this two-part blog series, Wendy Worrall Redal explored our vanishing quiet places and what that loss could mean for us. Now she shares the secrets of some of Earth’s most tranquil spots.
So, where can travelers go to escape acoustic discomfort and bask in the purity of nature’s aural delights? Probably not the Grand Canyon, which saw 90,000 air tours over its mile-deep chasm in 2009. Certainly not the Yosemite Valley floor, which reminded me of Manhattan with monoliths, rather than skyscrapers, when I was there this past July.
Some answers to that question remain closely guarded secrets by Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and author of the 2009 book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World, written with John Grossman. But he’s willing to disclose one, “the quietest place in the United States,” which serves as the “one square inch” of his book title. And it’s even located within a popular national park.
One square inch of silence
The Hoh Rainforest, within the verdant recesses of Olympic National Park in northwest Washington, is where Hempton’s endangered spot of ground lies. Compared to the other 390 units managed by the park service, Olympic is the least polluted by noise. Its shadowy interior comprises the largest roadless area in the contiguous United States. Even more significantly, says Hempton, the park has the greatest diversity of natural soundscapes, from glacier-capped peaks to temperate rainforest to the longest uninterrupted stretch of wilderness coastline in the Lower 48.
The goal of Hempton’s One Square Inch Project is to protect just this single inch of land from human noise. Right now, the only sound you’re likely to hear at this spot might be water dripping from fern fronds, or an occasional bird call. Hempton hopes to persuade airlines to keep the sky above clear of jet traffic, even as demand for new routes grows.
Other pockets of peace
Where else besides Olympic National Park might you go to soak up the silence? Here are four more places on the planet where quiet still reigns — and, in marked contrast to the Hoh Valley, they all happen to be deserts:
- Gobi Desert, Mongolia: The only signs of human life you’ll encounter for mile upon sandy mile are a few wandering nomads and the occasional paleontologist.
- Kalahari Desert, Southern Africa: Stark and barren yet teeming with wildlife that frequent its seasonal waters, the only human dwellers in this enormous arid expanse are the San bushmen who have hunted and gathered here for 100,000 years.
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California: Though 500 miles of dirt roads lace this vast park, vehicles and visitors are few, and motorized transport isn’t allowed in the park’s 12 wilderness areas.
- Big Bend National Park, Texas: With over 800,000 acres of remote desert and mountains, you’re more likely to hear birds and bats in Big Bend than cars or jets — the park is crossed by very few flight routes, an increasing anomaly in the world today.
I leave you with a thought from Mother Teresa:
“See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence … we need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Yours for quiet reflection,