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Books

‘Stone Desert’ an homage to special part of Southwest

(Courtesy of Maria’s Bookshop)

The 2022 rerelease of “Stone Desert: A Naturalist’s Exploration of Canyonlands National Park” by Craig Childs includes the actual pages from his original journal. Originally published in 1995, the journal includes pen-and-ink drawings of places, flora and fauna completed during his extensive trips through the park. The ink drawings are well done – he is both a writer and an artist.

The written portion of the journal, which apparently was photographed from the original, is sometimes hard to read. A magnifying glass might need to be used to understand the writing. The journal does, however, give readers the fresh immediacy and enthusiasm of Childs’ wonder at the discoveries he made during his quest.

Before delving into Childs’ detailed work, it is important to learn a few facts about Canyonlands. It is located in neighboring southeastern Utah and became a national park in1964. It is a vast space consisting of 337,000 acres that measure 65 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west at 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

The park is divided into four major parts by the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west. The most accessible and most visited area is Island in the Sky in the north. It is a flat-top mesa featuring spectacular views from many overlooks. In the middle west of the park there is The Maze. This section is home to remote canyons and incredible rock paintings left by early humans. In the southeast portion, The Needles boasts towering rock pinnacles. In the southwest, after the rivers have joined, Cataract Canyon offers wild whitewater rafting.

If you go

WHAT: Author talk and book-signing: Craig Childs’ “Stone Desert.”

WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday.

WHERE: Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/3fLtvGY.

Childs’ winter adventure starts near Moab. Each of the trips he makes, he travels with different friends.The first chapter, “Water on Stone,” tells of his trip with fellow traveler, Karyn Brown, from Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s been exploring the United States for four years. They set off downriver with a borrowed canoe. Childs’ descriptions of locations they pass through are loaded with information about how the land was formed. While going downriver, they frequently go on land and find fossils, evidence of when the land was underwater as part of an ocean. They discover pottery shards and other artifacts that show evidence of other cultures that lived thousands of years ago. The Archaic, Fremont and Anasazi (now known as Ancestral Puebloans) left behind amazing pictographs and petroglyphs.

Childs’ next five chapters, “Absence of Water,” “Life From the Cracks,” “Nomads and Artists,” “Pottery Makers” and “Tracks” are equally informative about the unique and special characteristics of the park. Childs is impressive with his dedication and perseverance that allows him to travel all the areas of the park and survive and thrive. He revels in the land, its extensive history and wide physical variety. He attracts adventurers with similar feelings about the park, although each person experiences it in their own individual way.

Childs is beyond knowledgeable about the history and geology of Canyonlands. He also acquaints readers with the living inhabitants of the park. Large mammals such as desert bighorns, mule deer, coyotes and mountain lions make welcome appearances. Smaller critters like mice and pack rats are also featured. Birds and bugs are part of the important makeup of the ecosystem of the park. Childs imparts valuable facts and observations about how they all contribute to the life force of Canyonlands.

“Stone Desert” is slight in length, but is a dense tome. It will appeal to readers who are fascinated with the natural world, past and present, ancient history of the formation of our earth and the peoples who lived before. Childs immerses himself in the experience, becoming almost one with the land and its creatures. “Stone Desert” is a revelation to be experienced as a homage to a special part of the Southwest.

Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.