“Dark clouds sailing overhead across the fields of the stars. Stars which are usually bold and close, with an icy glitter in their light—glints of blue, emerald, gold. Out there, spread before me to the south, east, and north, the arches and cliffs and pinnacles and balanced rocks of sandstone (now entrusted to my care) have lost the rosy glow of sunset and become soft, intangible, in unnamed unnameable shades of violet, colors that seem to radiate from—not overlay—their surfaces.”1
In the late 1950s, Edward Abbey spent a couple summers as a ranger in what was the Arches National Monument. His experiences during those summers living in a park trailer in the interior of the monument became the basis for his first nonfiction book, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. The book is filled with beautiful descriptions of the raw desert, in which Abbey strives for accuracy above all else. He also includes his adventures, whether they involve voyeuristically watching gopher snakes or nearly trapping himself fatally in a side canyon, and also his views on development in the West. Desert Solitaire is a book about the beauty of the natural world and why it is worth preserving.
In 1929, newly-inaugurated President Herbert Hoover declared two separate areas near Moab, Utah as Arches National Monument. The area was enlarged and opened to tourist development by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. In regard to the development of the monument in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Abbey, in his author’s note to Desert Solitaire, cautions against readers driving out to Canyon country to see what he describes in the book: “…most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy.” The monument became Arches National Park in 1971, and while the area is more developed, the beauty of the landscape remains.
1Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness.. New York: Ballantine, 1971. 13-14. Print.
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