Desert solitaire : a season in the wilderness

by Edward Abbey

Paperback, 1968




New York : Ballantine Books, 1971, c1968.


When Desert Solitaire was first published in 1968, it became the focus of a nationwide cult. Rude and sensitive. Thought-provoking and mystical. Angry and loving. Both Abbey and this book are all of these and more. Here, the legendary author of The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey's Road and many other critically acclaimed books vividly captures the essence of his life during three seasons as a park ranger in southeastern Utah. This is a rare view of a quest to experience nature in its purest form -- the silence, the struggle, the overwhelming beauty. But this is also the gripping, anguished cry of a man of character who challenges the growing exploitation of the wilderness by oil and mining interests, as well as by the tourist industry. Abbey's observations and challenges remain as relevant now as the day he wrote them. Today, Desert Solitaire asks if any of our incalculable natural treasures can be saved before the bulldozers strike again.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mldavis2
Abbey was a desert nature lover and outspoken curmudgeon on most other topics. He had an M.S. in philosophy and, like Thoreau, lots of time to explore and think during several years working in the deserts of the American Southwest. Some may take offense at his sarcastic wit, and while he shows his hypocritical side on occasion, Abbey is nevertheless a fierce opponent of overpopulation and recreational tourism that causes governmental destruction of our natural resources. While certainly written with more 'spice' than Leopold, speaking out on such diverse topics as organized religion and 'monopoly capitalism,' Abbey gives us a biological and philosophical tour of some of the most remote, beautiful and dangerous land in the U.S.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
This is a nonfiction memoir about Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey is a bit of a curmudgeon, ranting about the destruction tourists cause in the park. That’s the strange paradox of wilderness; the more people want to visit it the more likely it is to be tainted by their presence. The wild aspects of nature are destroyed as roads are built for the public to reach them.

It reminded me so much of Thoreau’s Walden. Both men live on their own, apart from society for the majority of each day. They write about their reflections of both the nature that surrounds them and the structure of the world in which they live. It’s hard not to sound a bit pious when you’re in that position, but some of his descriptions are beautiful.

BOTTOM LINE: A good travel memoir and reflection on society, but I have a feeling I would have enjoyed this one much more if I’d been traveling in the West or even planning a trip there. It’s hard to appreciate the incredible nature of the west when you’re just reading about it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
This is Edward Abbey's 1968 memoir of his time in America's desert southwest, which he spent working as a park ranger in Utah's Arches National Park (and, occasionally, as a cowboy) and exploring the canyonlands on foot and by river. The book is full of rambling philosophical musings and poetic descriptions of the desert, accounts of his own adventures and of local folklore, and his thoughts -- which are at once snarky, well-considered, and almost painfully idealistic -- on the preservation of the wilderness and the damage wrought by what he calls "Industrial Tourism" and by modern man's unhealthy relationship with the automobile. ("Modern man" being the kind of phrase that Abbey uses because, well, it was 1968.)

I'm left at the end of this feeling distinctly unsure whether I would have liked Abbey the person. He feels, like many of the desert plants he writes about, a little too prickly for comfort. But his writing is lovely, thought-provoking, and evocative, and he clearly loves the desert with a soul-deep yet unsentimental kind of love.

I spent several days in the back country of Utah's canyonlands once, what seems like a lifetime ago, and reading this has left me with a poignant longing to go back.
… (more)
LibraryThing member drjvrichardsonjr
The author must have been an English major: in the first thirty pages, I encounter the following words new to me: demesne, gelid, pismires, and usufructuary. A strong condemnation of industrial tourism in "the most beautiful place on earth"--Arches National Monument in 1967.
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
The curmudgeonly conservationist and self-proclaimed "eartheist" writes about degradation of national parks, lyrical and sometimes deadly times in the Utah desert and great descriptions of some of the eccentric desert folk.
LibraryThing member rudelywakened
I loved this book as young man back in the 70's. I sought my adventures out of doors - many in places that would not qualify as "wilderness" by any definition.

Arches National Monument as Abbey found it was not wilderness, either. It was adequately developed to permit access to the slightly adventurous visitor willing to drive an unpaved road. Development to support "industrial tourism" just creams whatever bit of magic was once found.

For me "Desert Solitaire" is a lament for all of the once magical places that now seem like part of an homogeneous affluent suburb. It mourns the loss of the need for adventurism, knowledge, or skill once the wild places are tamed.

There's surely elitism here - and it favors those willing and able to endure the discomfort that keeps the riffraff out. There's humor and rightful anger here - and resignation to witnessing the loss of treasures.
… (more)
LibraryThing member jennyo
Had to read this one for a book group meeting tomorrow night. It's Abbey's memoir about working as a park ranger at the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah during the 1950s and 1960s. I had mixed feelings about the book. I loved the parts where he described the beauty of connecting with the wilderness. I didn't love his screeds on how we're messing everything up. It's not even so much that I disagree with him as it is his holier than thou tone. Still, it was an interesting glimpse into a part of our country that is even now disappearing, not because of the effects of nature, but because of man's idea of progress.… (more)
LibraryThing member mbattenberg
Honestly, How can you really "rate" a book of this nature? I came in with no preconceptions, and read it in a flurry over a couple of days... as a Canadian with little experience with really hot places, I was pulled in and, ironically (or not) felt the urge to go on my own Odyssey to the Arctic. So, Solitaire went far beyond its mandate -- if it ever had one-- and moved a complete stranger. In my books, that is a literary success.… (more)
LibraryThing member nchuluda
Even if he wanted to join the American middle class (and some Indians do wish to join and have done so) the average Navajo suffers from a handicap more severe than skin color, the language barrier or insufficient education: his acquisitive instinct is poorly developed. He lacks the drive to get ahead of his fellows or to figure out ways and means of profiting from other people's labor. Coming from a tradition which honors sharing and mutual aid above private interest, the Navajo thinks it somehow immoral for one man to prosper while his neighbors go without. If a member of the tribe does break from this pattern, through luck, talent or special training, and finds a niche in the affluent society, he can also expect to find his family and clansmen camping on his patio, hunting in his kitchen, borrowing his car and occupying his bedrooms at any hour of the day or night. Among these people a liberal hospitality is taken for granted and selfishness regarded with horror. Shackled by such primitive attitudes, is it any wonder that the Navajos have not yet been able to get in step with the rest of us?… (more)
LibraryThing member revslick
What starts out as a grumpy guy out west telling about his love of the desert turns quickly into a reclusive narcissist that hates people yearning to die alone in the desert, which by then the reader is glad to let him do. Even with the narration of bitterness, he can create a connection to the wild. My favorite parts were his description of death by dehydration, escaping quicksand, and his encounter with a legendary horse.… (more)
LibraryThing member listorama
Having developed a "thirst" for exploring desert landscapes, I though it was time to get a dose of wilderness philosophy from Edward Abbey. What a disappointment! While the book was at times enjoyable, I felt His Royal Highness spent too much time complaining about "people as the force of ruination of wilderness" (or something like that). If his philosophy were put into practice retroactively, all paved roads in parks would be converted to dirt/gravel and any creature comforts would be eliminated in the name of "purity of wilderness experience." I did enjoy his descriptions of the landscape and how he coped with living in the unforgiving desert environment. Also fun was his depictions of the stupidity of some park visitors. Nonetheless, overall, the book was a big letdown.… (more)
LibraryThing member rivkat
Well, I see why people like him—he’s vicious about people, including himself, while loving the desert around him far more, and describing it with equal wit. Discussing physicists (and riffing on the atomic bomb) he talks about scientific disputes that were “peaceful,” in that “only bystanders” were harmed. Et cetera. It is a bit disconcerting to have environmentalism side by side with various racial stereotypes (the noble/degraded Indian in particular), heterosexism (no fairies for him), and condemnation of cars as mere wheelchairs—if you’re too infirm to see the great outdoors, you should have gone before you got that way. Also his insistence that overpopulation was about to destroy the United States—half a century ago—making mandatory contraception necessary, reads a little differently now.… (more)
LibraryThing member readermom
I think they will let me stay in Moab now. I now have read the patron saint of Moab, Edward Abbey. Actually I read The Monkeywrench Gang a long time ago, but Desert Solitaire is about Arches, and the desert area around here.

It is interesting to read something that you love and empathize with half of and strongly disagree with the other half. I love the desert, I always have. I love the red rock, the sun (though I burn horribly), the lack of people. When I was in college we came down all the time. It is one of the reasons I love living here. Just walking out my door is beautiful.

But I also think that a human presence in the desert doesn't automatically ruin it. And though Abbey tries very hard to refute the inspirational feelings the landscape inspires, I welcome and cherish those thoughts. I once read something, can't remember where, that there is a reason the world's great religions came from the desert. The solitude, the clarity of the desert gives your mind an opportunity to hear all that is to faint to hear through the radio, kids, bills and worries of the indoors.

Abbey was a ranger in Arches before the paved road comes through. He is unhappy about the change and equates one road into Arches with the eventual paving over of all the beauty in the west. He also wrote this book as Glen Canyon Dam was being built and Glen Canyon being drowned. I think he would be appalled about a lot of the changes, but perhaps relieved that Canyonlands, at least is still mostly accessible only on foot. The book is a lament for what he thought would soon be gone forever. It is still here, perhaps harder to find, but solitude is still possible in the desert and I love it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member debnance
First read: Desert Solitaire is one of those books that I've seen a million times---on other people's bookshelves, at gift shops in national parks, at library sales---but that I've never gotten around to buying or reading. When it arrived in an armchair travel bookbox and after I recently read The Secret Life of Cowboys, somehow I was "spurred" toward reading this book. And these two books (Secret Life and Desert Solitaire), in truth, have a lot in common: a common setting, the American West, and a common narrator, fellows burned out on life in the city and itching for, well, something the West has to offer. Edward Abbey is a surprising guy, happy in his summer job as a ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah, relaxing in the outdoors, ranting a bit about the encroachment of cars upon the wilderness, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere, picking up a rock, flinging it at a rabbit, and killing it (literally). I never knew what this fellow was going to do next. Abbey seemed to be an odd mixture of tree hugger and Texas good ol' boy (though he was originally from Pennsylvania, he'd have fit right in here). Every page, every paragraph, is full of Abbey's opinions and philosophizing, but it makes for a good read. Favorite Quote: (from the Introduction) "It will be objected that the book deals too much with mere appearances, with the surface of things, and fails to engage and reveal the patterns of unifying relationships which form the true underlying reality of existence. Here I must confess that I know nothing whatever about true underlying reality, having never met any."Second Read:A reread. I had to find and read this book for a very silly reason. Here’s the story: I found a green hiking hat that I had to buy when I was in Utah. On the hat were three pictures with labels: Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. We went physically to Zion and Bryce while we were in Utah, with no time for other stops, so I had to visit Arches through a book. Thus, Desert Solitaire.I liked it even better than I did last time. I was surprised to see Abbey as such a rebel; I didn’t remember that.… (more)
LibraryThing member velmalikevelvet
I pick up this book again every 3-5 years for re-reading, and it never fails to disappoint. Wry, heart-felt, and imbued with the weathered, dry sensibility that is often picked up by those that spend any substantial time in the desert, it is a classic and should be read by all Americans before the environment that is described is eaten by developers, resource extractors, and nuclear waste repository proponents.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mrs.Stansbury
If you have ever read "Walden Pond" by Throeau you need to read this book. Desert Solitaire celebrates nature in a modern world, shares stories of man communing with nature as an equal, and opens the readers eyes to environmental issues. Nature lovers will fall in love with this book.
LibraryThing member nkrastx
Beautiful tribute to the desert landscape of Utah.
LibraryThing member Erica_W
I realize this won't be the most helpful review, but I couldn't get over the fact a ranger kills an animal just to see if he could survive in the wild and then rants about other peoples' lack of respect for the wilderness. He also irritated me with his arrogance about believing that he had solved some social issues through extreme means. I wish I could see beyond these things, but I just couldn't.… (more)
LibraryThing member circlesreads
I only got through half of this one. Was Abbey trying to write about his experiences at Arches, tell historical cowboy stories, or write a treatise on the evils of developing national parks? I couldn’t tell. I got bored.
LibraryThing member edywablo9
Excellent book by the forerunner of the environmentalist cause. Overview of what has transpired as travesties of the landscapes by governmental and private interference. Revealing many issues by a n exquisite and literate spokesman of the cause.
LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
Edward Abbey is basically the sober version of Hunter S. Thompson. However, instead of drug expertise and counter-culture, Abbey understands the recreational park system and the state of Native Americans in the 1960's. He knows a great deal about the environment and his appreciation for it is powerful. Abbey's lust for life is enviable and his sense of humor is my favorite thing about this book. Abbey lives the life of a true outsider and is one of the most authentic authors I have come across.

yes, he definitely does get "sanctimonious about wilderness" but I found the majority of what he said meaningful but mostly hilarious, because he admits how outlandish some of his claims are. you gotta remember, this guy was out their living it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member eduscapes
This is one of those books I read back in the 1970s that was interesting to revisit as my understanding of the issues of the environment, ecology, and conservation have evolved.
LibraryThing member kay135
I read this as I was exploring and discovering Arches Nat'l Park. What a great novel. I read it again and again.
LibraryThing member lieslmayerson
This was a gift from my friend Kim to give me a glimpse into some of the space she comes from. I enjoyed reading it and will reread it when I finally make it out to Moab. I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates the beauty of desert landscape.
LibraryThing member kristio
Loved this book! Edward Abbey's nature writing is compelling and full of vivid imagery. It makes you feel like you're actually in the West experiencing what he is going through.



Page: 1.109 seconds