Read: Desert Solitaire

I know. Another reread. I found this copy in a small, community library. You know, those tiny mailbox looking things found in the most unlikely of places? Yep, one of those. Inside was a note, written in fine, black ink. From Andres to Whitney, suggesting Whitney not let Abbey make her too “crotchety” but instead to use Abbey to keep her spirit wild. Good advice.

I’ve read this book many times and will read it again I am sure, but it will be a good gap between my next reading because I was able to retell each chapter tale to myself even before turning those pages. There are several takeaways from this book even though Abbey penned this baby back in the 1960s.

The places he describes are gone. There are too many humans on the planet. Automobiles and natural spaces do not mix well. The Park Service has an upside and a downside, just like the rest of our government agencies. And once the wild spaces are gone, so is a part of us.

Edward Abbey, and his Desert Solitaire, are stem winders. The antithesis of modern vanlifers, Instagrammers, oil and gas tycoons and anyone else banking on the exploitation of the wilds. My guess is there would be a lot more roadside tombstones if these evil platforms were around back in Abbey’s day. (Oil and gas was doing their nasty work back then, for sure.)

And don’t forget, this book is well written, references many things outside of what the title describes. This is a book to own. But be prepared for pain. His description of places like Glen Canyon, before the dam, and Havasu before the onslaught of tourism, is hard to believe in their beauty and remoteness.

16 Comments on “Read: Desert Solitaire”

  1. This was an important book for me. I read it for the first time in Moab while in my early twenties while living in SLC. Not everyone enjoys Edward Abbey but, personally, I have gotten something from most of his books (both fiction and non-fiction).


  2. Yea, I’m due for a re-read. Not sure there was ever an answer with respect to visiting these places. He definitely visited them and was better for it.

    1. Scott,
      I was in Moab last year. A disaster in my mind. It’s so overdeveloped and the lines to get in these parks was enough for me not to even slow down. IG has made it so much worse. I’m destined for the fringes of Alaska.

      1. My Moab is definitely one based on memory and I am sure that the one of today does not match the one in my mind. That is probably true of many places.

        1. Matt,
          I passed through in early 90s and have been through several times since and each time the building boom is kinda stunning.

  3. Covid, besides being what could be seen as nature’s attempt at “thinning the herd”, has caused a significant uptick in RV sales as people look for ways to get out and about in some bubble of safety. As much as you and other purists would like it to remain pristine, that ship sailed years ago. This is the new normal.

    1. Chuck,
      I am far from a purist. I knew in the 1980’s it was over, watching what was happening where I grew up. I was introduced to pristine wilderness by my father while I was in grade school. He said “take a good look around because it’s going away.” I drove through Moab last year and that was enough for me. Same for much of the “hot” destinations. I avoid most national parks due to the crowd scene. Abbey had good but impossible ideas about how to handle some of this but it’s too late for any of them.

      1. Yeah, I do the same around here, staying away from the popular hiking spots. I try to find a quiet spot, next to a small stream where I can set up my little folding chair and hang out with a book. Too wet for that now, 32 and freezing rain.

        1. Chuck,
          Trailheads here, near town, can be parking lots. We avoid too. Head to the remote sections and still find alone time.

    2. I thought about buying an RV early in the pandemic. Vague ideas of America 2020 storytelling (didn’t do any of it) and figuring out how to safely get closer to my folks. Looked at vans, too. I realized that I would probably be terrible with either of those options for anything longer than two nights at a time. I also realized that an aging white male talking to predominantly well off white folks in RV parks wasn’t the 2020 story I was hoping to tell. I’m rambling here to get to a final RV point – if anyone is looking at buying one now, I suggest waiting – there’s going to be a flood of used RVs for sale after the pandemic fades.

      1. Exactly, it will be like that old adage about owning a boat. The two best days of owning it are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. And yeah, Nomadland, the book and now the movie, have already been done.

        1. Chuck,
          And that story had been told many, many times before Nomadland. I assisted a photographer back in the 90s who also did that story and did it well.

      2. Scott,
        Van for us is a total blast but we are both happy going feral. We are planning a 6-8 week slog come summer. And yes, the market will be flooded.

  4. Hi Dan, Thanks for recommending this book. I just ordered the book.
    The authors name rang a bell and I remember reading another book by him around 15 years ago called “The Monkey Wrench Gang”.
    Well worth the read in my opinion.
    I love the Southwest even though I currently live in Massachusetts.

    BTW, I follow your activities and content regularly, on your website and on youtube.
    Your youtube videos are head and shoulders above anyone else on youtube ( Sean Tucker is also good). Seems like all anyone does on youtube is try to do camera reviews and or follow the herd to get subscriptions and to make money.
    Not much originality out there……

    Keep up the great work!

    1. J Alan,
      You are the third person this week who mentioned Sean Tucker. He must be solid. Monkey Wrench is great as well. Helped get a lot of folks started on the enviro math, albeit a slightly military bend.

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