Confessions of a Bookaholic: Book reviews about red rock country

Capitol Reef Fruit Orchard_feistyharriet_March 2015 (7)

This year I decided to write my book reviews a little differently instead of focusing on what I read chronologically, I want to group similar books together by topic and write about them that way.

Mormon Country, by Wallace Stegner (5 stars). Stegner spent a lot of time in Utah during his formative years, and his grasp of Mormon culture and idiosyncrasies while still respecting their faith is, frankly, refreshing. This was published in the early 1940’s and while there have been some big changes in many aspects of Mormon culture since then as the LDS church has grown exponentially, some of the idiosyncrasies are now just bigger issues, and some have disappeared completely.

In addition to describing the people and culture of Utah, however, Stegner spends many chapters discussing the land, the settlement (small agricultural towns based on community and irrigation, not the stand-alone ranches of the Midwest), the working with the natural resources instead of exploiting them (Mormons did not mine, despite settling in mineral and oil rich country), history of native tribes and people, history of battles (actual and political) with the federal government in the early days of the Utah Territory, Spanish explorers, Butch Cassidy’s outlaws, legends and stories from the Colorado Strip, dinosaur hunters, and the “colonizing” Mormons who settled from Idaho to Mexico, from the Rockies to the Sierra and even outposts at San Francisco, San Bernadino, and San Diego, California.

Mostly, this book just made me homesick. Stegner’s descriptions of the wildest places of the Wasatch mountains and south-eastern Utah’s red rock country made me long desperately for home. Stegner’s predictions for Utah have almost all come true, which was really interesting to read about.

Petrified Forest NP 2_feistyharriet_March 2016

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, by Wallace Stegner (4 stars). The high desert, red rock canyon country of south-east Utah was the last part of the contiguous United States to be mapped, and with good reason. That country is harsh, blistering, and difficult to navigate by foot, horse, boat, or, frankly, jeep. Terry Tempest Williams says Utah has “a spine like a stegosaurus” and I think that’s quite apt. Powell is the first (white) explorer to attempt this country and try to map the rivers and mountains and plateaus. This book is that history and follows Powell’s political career for several decades as he tries to convince Congress and the public, so hot for the Homestead Act, that agricultural farming just will not work in vast areas of the arid, desert West. He failed, and it wasn’t until decades later that the US Government started to understand his points. The subsequent water war that has lasted and heightened in the last 15 or 20 years was predicted by Powell over 150 years ago, he knew exactly what would happen to the lands of the West if farming and ranching were left unchecked and the water resources were not protected.

The most exciting part of this book is the first 150 pages where Powell and a small group of adventurers run the Green River from Wyoming down through the Uintas and eastern Utah, finally meeting up with the Grand/Colorado River and continuing on through southeast Utah and northern Arizona, running the Grand Canyon, and ending up in the tip of Nevada. His descriptions are fantastic and, in many ways, a love letter to the red rock country I hold so dear. The rest of the book is more political and details the history of homesteading and immigration through the western United States, bits of the wars and treaties and decimation of the Native American tribes, and a lot of congressional arguments and acts and vetoes that led to the “opening” and settlement of the West. Stegner wrote this in the 1950’s and it is fascinating how much still holds true 75 years later on the fight for water and other sustaining resources in the hot desert mesas and mountains.

Utah Hwy 95_feistyharriet

High Tide in Tucson: Essays From Now or Never, by Barbara Kingsolver (4 stars). When I picked this book up I thought it would be include essays about Kingsolver’s life in Arizona, experiences in and around Tucson. It does not. The essays are well written and thought invoking, but only one or two has any direct ties to living in an arid desert. Just shows you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Kingsolver discusses politics, environment protection, family, travel, and many of her own childhood experiences. Excellent read.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, by Terry Tempest Williams (4 stars). This book is part environmental treatise, and part family history. While I sometimes did not identify with the connection Tempest Williams feels to the women in her family, I certainly felt in my bones her love for the Salt Lake valley and the Great Salt Lake herself (yes, the lake is a woman). Tempest Williams is a gifted storyteller and writes beautiful, poetic descriptions full of emotion and feeling.

Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, by Terry Tempest Williams (3 stars). This collection of essays about red rock and canyon country was a little hit and miss. Some of them I *loved* and re-read immediately. Other essays didn’t really affect me much, or even made me angry; but, in most ways, this book is a series of love letters to the wild, rocky country I call home.

Other Reading Recommendations:

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey

The Anthropology of Turquoise, by Ellen Meloy

 

Harriet sig

Advertisements

Petrified Forest National Park

Once upon a time, in the middle of a very long drive from Salt Lake to Phoenix, I took myself on a little detour to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. It was a park I’d never visited, was literally right off my route (which was already a detour to include stops at Four Corners and Shiprock, NM), and I figured a quick stop to check it out would be a good way to stretch my legs. It was….well, it as nothing like I expected, and not in a very good way. I mean, the stripey desert was gorgeous, with layers of red and white and purple and green on the dunes and hills glowing in the late afternoon sun. It was too warm for me to really enjoy a little hike (when I’d left that morning it was in the low 30’s, the weather in Petrified Forest NP was in the 80’s with no shade and very few substantial clouds), and I had been subsisting off gas station snacks for a day and a half already.

Petrified Forest NP 1_feistyharriet_March 2016

So, instead of hiking down among the hills, I wandered around the look out places, and then drove to the next, and the next, and the next. Petrified Forest NP isn’t large, and there is a 20-ish mile loop that takes you through the most popular parts of the park. After an hour of driving and wandering and driving and wandering I still hadn’t seen any actual trees petrified into rocks, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but, I don’t know, maybe a few rocky stumps here or there?

Petrified Forest NP 2_feistyharriet_March 2016

Nope, just more striped hills. Pretty, stunning even, but for me this part was not As Advertised, and that usually leads to disappointment.

Petrified Forest NP 3_feistyharriet_March 2016

Towards the end of my drive through the park I pulled over to view Newspaper Rock, which is best seen with binoculars (or the zoom function of your best camera lens), humans aren’t allowed anywhere near the engravings, probably with good reason; time and time again humans in the general public have shown they are the worst for taking care of ancient spaces. That being said, I do wish I would have been able to get a closer look at these drawings, don’t they look so cool!?

Petrified Forest NP 4_feistyharriet_March 2016

As I headed out of the park the red striped hills gave way to gray and blue and green striped hills, they look a lot more like The Badlands in South Dakota than anything I’ve seen in Red Rock Country. And then, my camera battery died. I did see a few rocky stumps and sections of fallen trees before I exited the park, but most of my little adventure was striped and petrified desert. Again, that kind of geology is pretty cool, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Petrified Forest NP 5_feistyharriet_March 2016

The town of Holbrook, Arizona is just a few miles from Petrified Forest National Park (population: 5,000), they have petrified logs lined up like vehicles at a car lot, hundreds of them for sale, giant ones, medium-sized ones, smaller ones. So, if petrified logs is what you are hoping to see, you will probably have a better shot of seeing them in town than in the park–although it kills me a little to actually type those words out.

Have you been to the Petrified Forest? Have you ever been disappointed in a National Park? Do you pack extra camera batteries, prepared like a girl scout, to avoid lack-of-battery predicaments!?

Harriet sig

Horseshoe Bend and Highway 89

Highway 89 2_feistyharriet_March 2016

For the first part of March I was lucky enough to be back in Salt Lake for some work-stuff, but also to spend some much needed time with my mountains, the city that holds my heart, and dear friends and family. The road to my northern home is approximately 700 miles long, and it’s primarily desert. But, the desert is, in ways both figurative and literal, my other home. I was driving by myself, which meant I could stop as often as I wanted to for pictures and little hikes. Frankly, I don’t know why I don’t do that EVERY time I make this drive!

Highway 89_feistyharriet_March 2016

There are several places in Utah and Arizona with these stripey hills and cliffs. Most are red, but the ones here are a greenish-gray with purple-y stripes and I have always loved them. They kind of look like enormous elephants taking a nap, and you know how much I like elephants. As you near Page on the Utah-Arizona border you wind your way to the top of the plateau that towers over Lake Powell and instead of looking up at the cliffs and formations you have the somewhat-stomach-dropping opportunity to (lay flat on your belly, inch towards the edge and) look down into the beginnings of the Grand Canyon at the famous Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend 2_feistyharriet_March 2016

I really wish that I had a lens to capture the enormity of this view, a major wide-angle or something so you can comprehend the vastness of the space, but also, comparatively how this tremendous bend doesn’t seem enormous when compared to the horizon and the knowledge that this is the northern end of the Grand Canyon plateau.

Horseshoe Bend 1_feistyharriet_March 2016

I mean, yes, it’s huge. Those are scrubby trees down there on the shore, not sage brush. But to think about how small this one particular place is on a river almost 1,500 miles long. This water started as snow in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and winds it’s way through the deserts of Utah and Arizona, supplying power for Las Vegas and Southern California, before emptying into the Baja and on to the Pacific. And this is just one, tiny little bend of that river.

Horseshoe Bend 3_feistyharriet_March 2016

Bryce Canyon National Park in the fog

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (3)

On one of my trips between Salt Lake and Phoenix I decided to make a slight detour and stop at Bryce Canyon National Park. I was hoping for some gorgeous photos of soaring ruddy cliffs and orangey spires in the setting sun. The weather had very different ideas. The entire canyon was smothered in fog, from the rim you could hardly see anything below.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (5)

On a whim I decided to hike down into the canyon, hoping for a few awesome shots. I was absolutely unprepared for such a hike, I was wearing sandals, no water, and no real rain protection. But, the Navajo Loop trail is just a little more than a mile, descending down the canyon walls, through Wall Street, wandering along the bottom of the canyon with the creek and the pine trees, and then back up again. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (6)

This is Wall Street, it’s easy to imagine these soaring cliffs as enormous sky scrapers, right? The trail was wet and pretty slick, I carefully picked my way down the switchbacks, big camera in hand. It’s hard to imagine how enormous these cliffs are, how tiny the hikers seem. But, lawsy, those views!!!

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (7)

From the bottom of the canyon looking back towards the rim, I felt like I was in a completely different world from the one at the surface. There weren’t may people there, and it only added to the creepy-beautiful feeling, eerie and other-worldly and heart-breakingly quiet.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (8)

The weather cleared up as I made my way out of Wall Street and onto the rest of the Loop trail, there were cedar trees and sherberty colored stripes and outcropping hoodoos everywhere.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (9)

As I began to ascend the canyon wall, the weather began to make me a little nervous. The drizzle of rain turned much more sleety, it got colder and the wind whistled through the formations. The trail was slick and muddy, my sandals slapped and slipped on the rocks. I carefully picked my way upwards, trying to shield my camera from the rain and simultaneously keep my balance with my very inappropriate footwear. It got foggier and foggier, I could really only see about 20 feet ahead of me when I came across Thor’s Hammer, one of the more photographed formations in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (11)

Within 30 seconds, the fog had swallowed this formation completely. I hurried as quickly as I could back to the rim, picking my way, slipping and sliding on the now completely empty trail. The fog topside was thicker and heavier than before, I was relieved to get back in my dry car and crank up the heat. Even though this was a very quick stop, I really loved my short hike and these images.

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (1)

Have you been to Bryce Canyon? Have you ever hiked in the fog? Tell me your stories!

Harriet sig

Moments on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon North Rim_feistyharriet_October 2015 (4)

You know those moments, the ones full of wonder and awe? The moments when you feel both incredibly small and remarkably lucky to see and experience and know the things you do? I know many people feel those moments often with their children, I know I do sometimes with brand new babies or a particularly delightful moment with a niece, nephew, or one of my stepkids. More often than not, however, I feel those moments in the great outdoors, exploring mountains and wild places where it is quiet and full of the Great Everything.

On one of the many trips between Salt Lake and Arizona last year I stopped at the Grand Canyon and watched a storm roll over the canyons and ridges. It was mostly quiet, a few off-season tourists, and I could smell the rain and feel the strength of the storm in the wind.

It was one of the most delightful moments, the kind that fill you up to your brim and let all the heart-healing goodness slop down your sides. Sometimes I forget how much I desperately need moments like that, the ones that heal your soul and give you a little push in the right direction. Whether those moments are with mountains or babies I want to actively seek those opportunities this year.

Grand Canyon North Rim_feistyharriet_October 2015 (7)

And if that means a solo trip back to a lonely spot in the Grand Canyon, so be it.

Harriet sig