By now, after posts like this, and this, you've gathered that I'm a junky for southern Utah. I love it. It is beautiful, holds unique wonders, is barren, and yet full of life. There's an author who shares my sentiments: Edward Abbey.
I've heard of Abbey for years. My childhood friend, Matt, also has an affinity for red rock, and now and again he would talk about this book, "Desert Solitaire," where Abbey describes his time in the '60s working as a park ranger at Arches National Park (then a National Monument).
When I was in Canyonlands National Park last spring, I picked up "Desert Solitaire" in the visitor's center.
I have to tell you, I LOVED this book--much more than I expected. There are two things that make this book work:
1) Abbey describes the topography, nature, politics, environment, and history of southern Utah, and to a greater extent, the Four Corners area. From a purely informational standpoint, it's interesting stuff.
2) As a narrator, and as a lens for gathering and processing this information, Abbey is one of a kind. It would be easy to slap a handful of stereotypical labels on him like hippie, loner, granola, anti-conformist, anti-capitalist, hermit, etc. But the truth is, Abbey is a guy who loves the pure, unadulterated outdoors, and just tells it how he sees it. I don't always agree with his assessment of things. (For instance, his description of Mormons was a little less than flattering overall, but funny in some ways and accurate in others). Other times, I was right there with him and felt and understood his passion for the topics he addressed. Overall, he at least got his point across--which to me is the mark of a good writer.
What comes through the pages of this book is the sentiment of a man who is in love with the land. When we love a person, we want to know all about them: what they like, their history, their hopes, plans, etc. Abbey has that sort of relationship with the desert.
My only dislike of the book was the handful of times he got a little gratuitous in trying to describe, in scientific terms, the geography, fauna and flora of the region. I can only take so much description of rocks and plants. But honestly, there's no too much of that.
Instead, you hear about his run down the Colorado river--just he and another friend; his time joining the local law enforcement on a manhunt for a missing hiker; his retelling of a scuffle that happened between two prospectors in the area that included lies, sex, jealousy, and a helicopter. And this is just a small sample.
It's hard for me to know how to recommend this book. I have a familiarity and bias toward the place Abbey is describing. Would it be hard to follow his prose if you weren't familiar with southern Utah? I don't know. But if you have a love of the outdoors, I think you'd like "Desert Solitaire." It immediately became a favorite that will proudly sit on my bookshelf and get re-referenced from time to time.