I love the outdoors. I have hiked more than 180 miles since April this year. I have visited Moab, Utah several times including trips into Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. When I go outside to experience these breathtaking masterpieces of God, I practice “Leave No Trace” etiquette. I live in Colorado, a beautiful state with amazing mountain ranges, sand dune formations, and stark red rocks jutting out of the earth like monoliths from another planet. The people here love the outdoors, respect it, and care for it for future generations.
I approached “Desert Solitaire” a classic book, first published in 1968 with eager expectation. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more disappointed I became. The book strays from the anticipated premise of living on the land, a single man in the Great American Western Desert to his political and environmental views of banning all roads in the National Parks to blowing up the dam in Glen Canyon, which led to the creation of Lake Powell, and even to his paid female companions after his job with the National Parks ends at the conclusion of the summer. In the first chapter, Abbey warns that the book is not for everyone. I know that some people share his views on the environment, overpopulation, and other geopolitical concerns, but the more I read, the more grating his voice became and I barely finished it.
His prose was a reaction to the overdevelopment by the Bureau of Land Management in the mid-20th century especially in the American West, but today it seems more like the radical hysteria a half-baked hippie. In my humble opinion, I believe that the Parks Service has done a good job of balancing the need for accessibility and preservation of some of the natural wonders in our great country. In most cases, I believe moderation has prevailed, which ultimately benefits everyone.
Are there long lines at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (third most visited national park in the US) here in Colorado? Yes. But even so, once you get there, park your car, put on your pack and boots, and get on the trail, you can still find places of solitude. There is so much to explore and discover and see. Yes, you do need to get out of your car to see it, but no, it doesn’t feel like the land has lost its pristine nature and appeal.
My favorite parts of “Desert Solitaire” are the adventures, the close calls, the times spent in solitude, out in the canyon country of Utah. I connected with these tales and expeditions. They made me yearn for new, similar experiences in my own life. It is only a six-hour drive from here after all.
This book is still a classic, read by millions for more than fifty years, but for me, it won’t be a book I will likely read again.