Desert Solitaire

Based on the cover of this book and the fact that it was written by some guy in the 1960s, I did not think it would be that interesting. Also, there is something unappealing to me about being somewhere with basically no water. But, It was not that bad, it just felt like i was reading someone’s diary about some place I do not really want to go.

I’ve been to national parks but never anywhere I’d call a desert, so I googled Arches National Monument. Because though, Abbey offers extremely extensive descriptions, staring at black words on discolored pages of a book does not help me.


I guess I could not expect much different. Dry arches made of rock.

The first thing in the book (actually one of my more favorite parts) that interested me was how close Abbey actually got to the wildlife in particular the two gopher snakes. Being a zoology major, this fascinated me. I am not quite sure that I would like to ever get that close to two snakes, but it is possible. Being able to watch two snakes “dance” is pretty cool and seems like it would be almost unreal. I guess anything is possible when you are all alone in the desert.

Mating gopher snakes… mating gopher snakes

Another part of Abbey’s wildlife description that I enjoyed was the part about the symbiotic relationship between the moths of the specific genus and the yucca plant. I always find it interesting when organisms share such specific relationships with each other and no one else.


While certain things impressed me, others did not. “Attention: Watch out for rattlesnakes, coral snakes, whip snakes, vinegaroons, centipedes, millipedes, ticks, mites, black widows, cone-nosed kissing bugs, solpugids…” etc.. etc… etc.. (Page 35) I mean I guess I am impressed that so much variety exists there, but I do not want to exist there. I do have great respect for this environment, but I will not going anywhere where a sign needs to be in place so that I do not sit on a black widow… at least not go there alone.

My favorite chapter of the entire book was “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks.” I always get a kick out of reading or listening to people rant about the destruction of the environment. I thoroughly enjoyed Abbey criticism of the paved roads that the government was installing. There is something magical (page 53) about a secluded location with little destruction, and I agree with Abbey when he says that wilderness is an essential part of civilization. I also laughed when Abbey mentioned the vandalism administrators complain about. If the park itself could talk, would it complain of vandalism by  the construction of paved roads and tourist attractions? His unsympathetic attitude towards children and old people was also funny as well as his Smokey the Bear suggestion. I agree with Abbey in that the accessibility to parks like this should be limited. I have been to several parks and I have always had the most fun when I’ve traveled off the paved pathways.

The chapter called “Rocks” reminded me of how greedy people can be. Two men almost died because of greed. And another was shot and killed, and the man who killed the first died too. Greed never ends well I guess unless you are Mrs. Husk who received her 100,o00.

Learning about the Navajo in “Cowboys and Indians Part Two” was interesting. Usually when I would learn about Native Americans it would just be about how foreigners came and ruined everything for them. I was surprised when I read that the Navajo population had grown from 9,500 to 90,000 in 100 years as a result of medical sciences that were introduced on their reservation. This population growth seemed great to me until I read that it helped them into severe poverty which just made me sad.

The introduction of the chapter about water was probably the best part of that chapter. I can relate to the man from Cleveland in a sense because I personally never want to live anywhere without an abundance of water. Engineering ideas created to help solve water shortage problems always amuse me. Water shortages are a complex situation, but I feel like the intensity of the issues could be dramatically reduced if put our common sense to work. The fact that we have to divert water from state to state upsets me.

The rain described by Abbey is not enough to support a large population of people. You would thing that would keep people away from areas like that, but no. Average Annual Precipitation by Sate. Utah is the second driest state. Why do people like to inhabit dry places like the southwest?

utah rain

The chapter about the moon-eyed horse was somewhat suspenseful. It made the desert seem like a magical place. I know that this horse has no magic powers, its elusive nature was interesting. I was impressed that Abbey actually found the horse. I wished he had captured it, but I guess leaving it be was best.


I thought Abbey’s interpretations of the words wilderness and paradise were interesting (189-190). I agreed with his definition of wilderness. I thought he worded it well. I think the definition of wilderness is something more can agree on. The definition of paradise (not his) is definitely more vague (assuming there is an actual definition) because I do not want spiders, quicksand, and rotting flesh in mine. The definition of paradise is entirely opinion based even more so than wilderness.

Slobivious americanus made me laugh a bit. I felt Abbey’s pain as he witnessed all of the trash. The sign from the Bureau of Reclamation at the end of that chapter brought back my feelings I had while reading the chapter on water.

The last thing I read that confirmed my lack of interest in traveling to such as place as Arches National Park was when Abbey went on a manhunt for the missing tourist. I know people can die anywhere, but a desert seems like more of  a high risk zone. I’d rather go to the Everglades and be surrounded by alligators and water… emphasis on the water.


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