Rediscover: Desert Solitaire

In the 50 years since its initial publication, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire has become a classic work of memoir and conservationism. It chronicles Abbey's experiences as a seasonal ranger in Utah's Arches National Park (then Arches National Monument) in 1956 and '57, which became inspiration for his later literary career. Abbey (1927–1989) is perhaps best known for his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, about environmental activists who use sabotage to save what wild places remain in the American Southwest. The book popularized the term "monkeywrenching," meaning sabotage as protest, especially to protect the environment.

But before Abbey was inspiring radical environmentalists, he was an awed employee at one of America's most dazzling national parks. Arches, as its name suggests, contains the highest density of natural arches in the world, including the Delicate Arch of Utah license plate fame. From September to April each year, Abbey managed trails and guests amid a sublime beauty that he feared was under attack by development and unchecked tourism. Desert Solitaire is as much a meditation on one man's connection with nature as it is a warning for the rest of us to leave her alone. Desert Solitaire is available in paperback from Touchstone  ($16, 9780671695880). --Tobias Mutter

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