Together, Doug and Kris Tompkins bought enough of Chile and Argentina to hold Rhode Island and Delaware. They let cattle ranches go wild and removed timber operations. They reintroduced wild pumas and jaguars. And they fought the development of an electrical project that would have dammed two of the wildest rivers in Patagonia.
All of which made the locals very suspicious.
Some believed they were going to melt the glaciers and sell the water to China. Another conspiracy theory has them creating a second Israel in the mountains of Chile, to shelter the world's Jews after World War III.
But the Tompkins' real plan was equally ambitious. They wanted to protect as much South American biodiversity as they possibly could by creating a network of national parks on par with those in the United States.
In March, Kris Tompkins stood not far from their first cabin and handed over 1 million acres to the people of Chile. President Michele Bachelet vowed to set aside another 9 million adjacent acres, creating a preserve the size of Switzerland and the sixth new national park created by the Tompkins in South America.
But the joyful ceremony was missing the key player in this love story. In December 2015, Doug had joined Yvon Chouinard for a Fun Hog reunion. They were paddling on a huge glacial lake when the weather turned and Doug was tossed into the freezing water. After more than an hour of struggle and frantic efforts to revive him, Doug Tompkins lost his life to the wild land he loved so much.
"When he died, he took the best of me with him, and I kept the best of him with me," Kris Tompkins told me in the first TV interview after his death. "I carry him around with me in the pocket of my heart. But he left me with so much."
Two weeks after his passing, Doug was named an honorary citizen of Chile, but tough politics remain. Some lawmakers see the Tompkins' efforts as some sort of imperial land grab and continue to resist their conservation efforts.
But Kris vows to carry forward her husband's vision of a human race that can live in harmony with its natural surroundings.
"I study the failed civilizations as a hobby, because I am so confounded by our inability to manage ourselves as a species in a way that prolongs a healthy future," she said, eyes intense. "You don't have to have five televisions. You can live differently to ensure that the non-human world stops disappearing at a rate that is incalculable at the moment. See, for me, it's a moral issue. It is a way of looking at things and saying, 'Stop. I stop here. For me it's not OK.'"