Desert Solitare, Ed Abbey, and Learning to Love The Desert

When I met F almost four years ago, he was sitting in a coffee shop in Corvallis reading Desert Solitaire. While I liked to read about the outdoors and traveling, I’d never had the good fortune to discover the writings of Ed Abbey. I’m sure this was in no small part thanks to the fact the closest I’d ever come to the “desert” was the area just east of the Columbia River in Washington (mostly the Vantage area).

I hadn’t ever really delved into the ways that being in the desert could complement and enhance the being in the mountains. F left his beat up copy of ol’ Cactus Ed’s book with me when he decamped for Mexico just after meeting me. I devoured it. I loved it. But, as sometimes is the problem when I plow through a book I love, I didn’t savor it.

Last fall, when we were in the early stages of planning our Moab wedding, I promised myself that I would reread it over the winter. Winter pretty much came and went and I didn’t. This spring, however, I decided I’d pay a few dollars to download it on my Kindle and one evening at the cabin, I dipped back into it. I’d read parts aloud to F and really settle in to the landscape that I always itch to go back and visit.

(If you haven’t ever read Abbey, Desert Solitaireis the place to start. After that, you have to give his fiction a try with The Monkey Wrench Gang and its sequel, Hayduke Lives! I recently read Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outsideand enjoyed it very much. Some people sort of frown on Abbey’s attempts at poetry that are collected and published in Earth Apples but really enjoyed the collection. Confessions of a Barbarianwill also give you some pretty good insight into Abbey’s tongue in cheek way of viewing the world. I’ve also read Brave Cowboy and Fire on the Mountainbut I generally don’t enjoy his fiction as much as the essays.)

One of the things I love so much about good travel literature (like Travels With Charlie, Blue Highways, or the like) is that they can transport you to a place. Before I traveled through the south I was able to absorb William Least Heat Moon’s description of his travels there. The desert, and specifically, the red rock desert of Utah, was a little different. While I loved Desert Solitare on the first read, I wasn’t able to fully process and absorb Abbey’s words. I was completely unequipped to understand and feel for the landscape as he was describing it.

While you’re reading this, I’m down playing in the beautiful red rock canyons of Utah with my soon-to-be-husband. (SATURDAY people…that’s like TOMORROW.) If you’ve been there, you’ll read this and think, “September in Moab? AWESOME.” If you haven’t you might be a little more “Meh.” But in any case, this afternoon, I’m sending some of my favorite Abbey quotes your way…try to feel the desert however you can.

5 thoughts on “Desert Solitare, Ed Abbey, and Learning to Love The Desert”

  1. Yay for tomorrow!! I’m so happy for you!

    Southern Utah is my favorite place in the world, and I can never get enough of it. It is easy to love the moutnains or the ocean, but the desert was a learned love for me, and that makes it more special.

    Have fun tomorrow! Thinking of you in Santa Fe, xoxo

  2. I recently moved to the desert (Tucson, AZ, not the same as southern Utah, but desert nonetheless) after spending my entire life thus far in the northeast and the midwest. I’m having trouble falling in love with it, and will pick up a copy of Desert Solitare to read. Perhaps reading Abbey’s book will help me see the beauty and wonder of my new home.
    Congratulations on your marriage!

    1. Give it a shot–reading it is definitely not going to hurt! It’s definitely a more sterile(?) environment then I’m used to but I really have come to love it.

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