Desert Solitaire

Relationship to Environment – Abbey continually attempts to level himself with the desert, largely by rejecting marks of man.

“like many mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him … leaving my flashlight where it belongs I remain a part of the environment I walk through” (15)

In doing so, he addresses how connected we are to our belongings, how they define us and become the central mode in which we experience the world

“the developers insist that the parks must be made fully accessible not only to people but also to their machines … wilderness and motors are incompatible” (59)

Further, he poses the idea that man, or at least the things he has come to require are in direct opposition of nature. The way he regards this man-made bubble in terms of the greater landscape is interesting, and I think influenced by his immediate surroundings; the desert is immensely vast and ones own place is accentuated in this kind of environment. He finds himself coming closer to it when interacting with the plants and animals that inhabit the area, often drawing analogies to humans…

“she and the fawn at her side, Madonna and child” (39)

“feathery stems flowing like hair” (32)

Similarly, he begins to feel a sense of ownership over the flora and fauna that surround him. At one point he reflects on various men he’s encountered in the area, and how they each eventually left, maintaining this idea that while people may move, the landscape is eternal — illustrated in his many descriptions that describe how time has literally shaped these natural wonders, how they maintain a sort of wisdom that is beyond any human capacity.

“a weird lovely fantastic object of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us – like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship” (45)

Changing Landscape, Human Interaction 

“obliterating from a sandstone wall the pathetic scratching’s of some imbeciles who had attempted to write their names across the face of the Mesozoic. (Where are you now…?” (46)


I find it really interesting how Abbey regards the initials in sandstone, which are in stark  contrast to his comments on the petroglyphs and pictographs painted on similar rock.

“Whatever their original intention, long dead artists and hunters confront us across the centuries with the poignant sign of their humanity. I was here says the artist. We were here, say the hunters” (127)


Both markings speak to this innate desire to record one’s present, to ensure that one will be remembered, but his attitude towards each begs the question of when it is deemed appropriate. Is the time passed that makes the markings legitimate? Are our marks inherently more obtrusive because of the detriment we’ve already caused on the wilderness?

Changing World

“we must make up our own minds and decide for ourselves what the national parks should be and what purpose they should serve” (59)

Abbey continually talks about the ambiguities in the aims for National Parks, a statement written in 1916 — as he points out, before cars were even invented. The increasing advancement and consumer culture over the past century has made these terms increasingly difficult to adhere to, and the matter lies, as Abbey points out, in our own hands. There will always be a push pull of economic motivation versus preservation, and I think Abbey perceives the latter as the moral high ground.

The trouble I find with this sentiment is that this version of wilderness, operating within parks and land preserves, isn’t truly wilderness. It is manicured and maintained, a necessary precaution in terms of preservation that simultaneously takes the “wild” out of it, turning the entire concept and experience into that of a museum.

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