Reading the Southwest

Usually this time of year I am anxious to be out and about cross country skiing. But with the mild weather we took a weekend trip to Southern Utah to do some jeeping and hiking. Our first stop was Hovenweep National Monument. The ruins at Hovenweep are really remarkable and there are some nice hikes there. Pets are allowed on the trails so we took our Scottish Terrier, Luigi, along for the trip. Luigi may not have appreciated the history, but he found plenty of things to interest him along the way. Lots of new smells and many birds and chipmunks at his level that intrigued him plenty. Hovenweep has six villages built between A.D 1200 and 1300. Time allowed us to visit only the main Square Tower and Cajon sites before the sun went down.

Mary and Luigi at Hovenweep

Looking at the ruins made me think of all of the great authors that write about the Southwest. Currently I am rereading my way through Tony Hillerman’s mystery series featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Hillerman is one of those authors that can really put you into the landscape, making your feel as if you can see the arroyos, mesas, mountains, and valleys. It’s almost as if you can smell the sage and the dust as the virga falls from the puffy clouds, evaporating long before the raindrops touch the ground. Hillerman’s daughter, Anne, has taken up the writer’s mantle and is continuing the series. Before I read her books I want to reread her father’s in order to maintain the story line.

Another author with great information about the Four Corners area is Craig Childs. If you have never read “House of Rain” I highly recommend it. I’ve read it several times and learn new and interesting things each time. “The Secret Knowledge of Water” focuses on the perennial topic here in dry country. Given the snow pack this year it might be a very timely read. All of Childs’ books are good reads but I especially recommend “Animal Dialogues.” His stories about encounters with crows and cougars captivate me. I’ve given this book as a gift to several family members and friends.

We continued our trip with a foray into Arch Canyon. Arch Canyon features three Arches, one at the end of the jeep trail and two visible by a 3.5 mile hike. The scenery is spectacular as you cross and recross a stream too many times to count. Even though it was 65 degrees and we were able to take part of the top off of the jeep, parts of the stream were frozen over where we crossed. Just another average day in paradise. There are ruins of ancient peoples and rock art in Arch Canyon as well which add another interesting dimension to the trip.

Upon my return to work, I found another book that looked interesting among the new books. “Cities of Gold” by Douglas Preston is subtitled “a journey across the American Southwest.” The description on the book’s back cover hooked me:

This riveting account of a journey on horseback reveals the Southwest as it was when Europeans first saw it and shows how much, and how little, it has changed. “The great myth of the American West,” Preston writes, “is that there was a winning of it.”

 Although Preston’s book won’t be available for a little while as I have it currently checked out, there are many, many other great authors of the Southwest. I haven’t even scratched the surface. Come on in to the library where the Adult Services staff will be happy to lead you on your own voyage of discovery.

About the author

Paul Paladino

Paul Paladino

Paul is the Montrose Library District Director