Best Books: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

If you are heading for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks (and you should if you are a photographer), I highly recommend you read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey before you go. No other book will give you quite the feel that Abbey does for what this harsh and unforgiving land was like more than a half century ago before it became more accessible to the average tourist.

In his own unique and provocative style, Abbey describes his experiences as a park ranger in Arches National Park (it was a National Monument back then) before it became more “civilized”.  Abbey is blunt, at times testy, a bit irascible, and certainly rough and tumble. He is, as one person put it, an “eloquent loner”. What better place to be alone than  in the high desert country of the southwest.

Desert Solitaire is moving, passionate, and at time controversial. You won’t always agree with Abbey, but you will think. And you will be grateful Abbey took you along for the wild ride and let you in on some of his adventures. This book is deservedly a classic.

A lot has changed since Abbey wrote Desert Solitaire, but with wise choices, you can still experience the austerity and aloneness of the desert.

My usual preferences are for the mountains, cool air, the scent of pine trees, cold mountain lakes, and rushing streams. But I fell in love with the desert on my first trip to Big Bend National Park. I am enchanted by the desert country in southern Utah. If you are a photographer (and even if you aren’t) you own yourself at least one trip of a lifetime to Arches, Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands, and Bryce.

Abbey will tune you in before your first trip. And when you have returned home, he will remind you of your memories of this wondrous land.


Buy Desert Solitaire.

Other books by naturalists.

Suggestions for photography in Arches National Park.

You can order a print of the Balanced Rock photo in the Utah gallery at

Arches National Park – the official NPS site.