Read your way through Utah


Start reading the land. Begin with “The Broken Land: Adventures in the Geology of the Great Basin” by Frank DeCourten, along with Stephen Trimble’s beautifully written and photographed “The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin.” For the iconic high desert of Utah National Parks, see “The geology of southern Utah's parks, monuments, and wildlands,”by Robert Fillmore. And to get a more personal feel for Arches and Canyonlands, “Blow sand into your soul: Bates Wilson, The Heart of Canyonlands,” by Jen Jackson Quintano, is a lively biography of Wilson, who advocated for her protection. “A Naturalist's Guide to Canyon Country”, by David B. Williams, is an essential companion, with more than 270 plants and animals identified and described within their ecological communities.

Indigenous voices are strong and varied in Utah. Excellent “by Ute historian Forrest S. Cuch”TO History of the American Indians of Utah” features the eight federally recognized tribal nations located in the state. “Navajo Mountain and Rainbow Bridge Religion,” by Karl W. Luckert, provides transcriptions of oral histories by Diné elders who shared traditional knowledge associated with the Rainbow Bridge, one of the largest sandstone arches in the world, accessible by boat on Lake Powell. “At the edge of morning: native voices speak through the bear's ears,” edited by Jacqueline Keeler, is an evocation of why these sacred lands are important to native communities; includes voices such as Regina Lopez Whiteskunk, Willie Grayeyes and Jonah Yellowman. Stacie Shannon Denetsosie's stunning debut collection, “The Missing Morningstar: And Other Stories,” was recently published, to excellent reviews.

Start with the classics, like “Desert Loner: A Season in the Desert”, by Edward Abbey, a wilderness anti-memoir set in Arches National Park in the years when Abbey was a park ranger there. Published in 1968, it can be considered a Toreauvian counterpoint to the turbulence surrounding the Vietnam War. Then, for a novel with a tendency toward sabotage, Abbey “The wrench gang can inspire you, as did the environmental group Earth First! – reinvent the Colorado River without Glen Canyon Dam. If you find Abbey's politics problematic, I suggest the bold “Desert Cabal: A new season in the desert” by Amy Irvine.

“The Last Trickster's Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest” and “The anthropology of turquoise: reflections on the desert, the sea, the stone and the sky”, by Ellen Meloy, are sharp works with witty storytelling that use cultural tensions between the land and a politics of extraction (of uranium, oil and gas, or coal) to complicate the scenario. Craig Childs’ elegant exploration of archeology in “House of Rain: Tracking a vanished civilization across the American Southwest” takes the reader back in time, to pre-population cultures whose pictographs and petroglyphs tell stories in stone near the cliff dwellings they left behind. And the book of him”The secret knowledge of water“It couldn't be more pertinent to our current megadrought.

Two biographies create a foundation for understanding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Joseph Smith: Rolling rough stones,” by Richard Lyman Bushman, and “Brigham Young: Pioneering prophet,”by John G. Turner. Both authors present these iconic figures in human terms. The charisma of Smith as a mystic and Young as a visionary pragmatist led the “saints” to a theology of Western expansion only to discover that they had a salt desert to tame. Two of my other favorite Mormon books are Maurine Whipple's novel ““The Giant Joshua” and the autobiography of Annie Clark Tanner “a mormon mother.” Both are tough and tender comments on how patriarchy and polygamy shape women's lives as they endure heartbreak and deepen their spiritual strength. “mormon country” and “Recapitulation,” by Wallace Stegner, are wise works of historical intelligence, with rich depictions of post-settlement Salt Lake City. And that of Jonathan T. Bailey”When I Was Red Clay: A Journey of Identity, Healing, and Wonder is a brave memoir of growing up gay in a rural Mormon community and avoiding erasure by finding refuge in nature.

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