Notes and Thoughts on Desert Solitaire (Abbey)

Strong and Inexplicable Feelings

  • Everyone has an image of an ideal/beautiful place, the one true home; for Abbey, this place is the desert–Arches National Monument (1)
  • Abbey presents many images and stories from his time in the park, yet still is unable to fully describe his attachment to this place; “There is something about the desert…There is something there that the mountains, no matter how grand and beautiful, lack; which the sea, no matter how shining and vast and old, does not have” (304).–inexplicable
  • The desert is shocking not only for its abundance of plants and wildlife, but also for its many different personalities: the desert is silent, it holds mystery (301-303); the desert is solitary and peaceful (e.g. Abbey’s ability to contemplate each morning with cup of coffee while listening to mourning doves, p. 18; or to sleep under the stars) but also violent and chaotic (e.g. April dust storms that obscure everything, p. 17; August thunderstorms and canyon flash floods, p. 150); the desert is a narcotic: “Stimulating, exciting, exacting”; the desert “sharpens and heightens vision, touch, hearing, taste, and smell” (170); the desert is dangerous (e.g. need 1 gallon of water per person per day; dead photographer, p. 265) but also provides safety (from our hectic and crazy society)
  • Abbey admits that the desert drives him crazy and that he longs for closer contact to people once again (332), but will always want to return
  • Abbey wants to posses it all–he “lusts for” the park (6)
  • Is the lack of attachment to a place or home a big social problem in America today? As a society, do we build non-distinct communities with no real character that leave us longing for something more?


The Need for Wilderness

  • Does Abbey fall into Cronon’s trap?; i.e. does he romanticize and idealize a distant place while not idealizing the actual places in which we live and striving to address the problems there? Is his view centered on man vs. nature?; He argues that the only way to go about fixing our problems is to stabilize our national population (64).
  • Abbey: Wilderness is not a luxury, but rather a necessity to the human spirit (211); “wilderness” invokes nostalgia of the America that our forefathers knew; Me: it is unfortunate that while this nostalgia exists, we are hard at work to transform our national parks into roads/parking lots/tourist traps.
  • “When a man must be afraid to drink freely from his country’s rivers and streams that country is no longer fit to live in” (202).
  • We need wilderness whether or not we actually set foot in it; we need to preserve the possibility of escape in case our government becomes tyrannical; wilderness could become the base for resistance against centralized domination; Is this argument credible?

Industrial Tourism and Crazy NPS Ideas

this National Park is brought to you by…


  • Our national priorities are not in order; “millions for asphalt can always be found” while foot trails and ranger stations go neglected and protective and interpretive services languish (62). Can be applied to other aspects of our society–e.g. investing billions of dollars to build efficient highway systems into our cities while bulldozing communities, segregating the poor, under-investing in public transit, and encouraging sprawl.
  • The NPS assumes that America wants to see national parks from their cars; the NPS strives to please those “millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them to comfort” (61).
  • Abbey argues that while these assumptions are correct, the NPS should not conform to people’s desires; it should:
  1. Ban cars in the parks
  2. Place a moratorium on roads
  3. Put park rangers to better use–i.e. get them out of their air-conditioned offices and allow them to give their expertise to tourists
  • All of these are really excellent ideas to help protect our parks “against the park service” itself (57). Can anyone provide insight into the policies in other countries with regard to their national parks (i.e. where are cars allowed, etc.)?
  • 1916 Act creating the National Parks had ambiguous language; the issue of accessibility pits environmentalists against developers; belief that all forms of construction are intrinsic goods, amounting to progress; insane view that we need to control nature (58-59).
  • The sinister Master Plan to pave new highways into Arches National Monument–would only increase traffic and take away from the wildness and beauty of the place (52); surveyor who says “you need this road” (54); this same process is happening elsewhere to make the parks more “accessible”
  • industrial tourism– has been encouraged by the roads; huge influx of people; no longer resembles a park, but rather a suburban village (54-55); people are denied the true experiences and sensations when they view the parks from within their “metallic shells on wheels” (290).
  • Abbey suddenly feels a strong connection to the land when he has the experience of hunting and killing a rabbit–he no longer feels isolated from his surroundings (41)
  • unnecessary development and destruction of our parks happens despite the Wilderness Act, intended to protect our wild areas and preserve their character (58)
  • Other crazy schemes for national parks: some in the Park Service advocate spraying some of the arches with glue/adhesive to prevent them from falling (43); tourist advocates placing floodlights next to the arches (309); attempts to prevent the natural progression of time and to deny visitors a true experience.


  • forced into rural slums to survive; turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with the hardships and depression
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs has aimed to turn Indians into white men, which forces them in between two cultures (129-133)

Civilization vs. Culture

  • Abbey is not opposed to man but to man-centeredness, or anthropocentricity (305)
  • culture- a way of living, can exist without civilizations; “inert mass of institutions and organizations which accumulate around and tend to drag down the advance of life” (308)
  • civilization-requires culture for its own existence; “the vital force in human history” (308)
  • Abbey is accused of being anti-civilization, but claims he is not
  • Yet, his criticism of park development–is this directed at culture or civilization? It is hard to tell because his definition of civilization is vague.

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