The 2022 reissue 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 diary includes pen and ink drawings of places, flora and fauna made during his extensive travels in the park. The ink drawings are well done – he is both a writer and an artist.
The written part of the diary, which was apparently photographed from the original, is sometimes difficult to read. A magnifying glass may be needed to understand the writing. The diary, however, gives readers the fresh immediacy and excitement of Childs’ wonder at the discoveries he made during his quest.
Before delving into Childs’ detailed work, it’s important to learn a few facts about Canyonlands. It is located in neighboring southeast Utah and became a national park in 1964. It is a vast area 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 elevation.
The park is divided into four main parts by the Colorado River to the east and the Green River to the west. The most accessible and visited area is Island in the Sky to the north. It is a flat-topped mesa with spectacular views from many vantage points. In the middle west of the park is The Maze. This section is home to secluded canyons and incredible cave paintings left by early humans. In the southeast part, The Needles has towering rock pinnacles. To the southwest, past the junction of the rivers, Cataract Canyon offers wilderness whitewater rafting.
WHAT: Author conference and dedication: “Stone Desert” by Craig Childs.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Maria’s Bookstore, 960 Main Ave.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/3fLtvGY.
Childs’ winter adventure begins near Moab. Each of the trips he takes, he travels with different friends. The first chapter, “Water on Stone”, recounts her journey with fellow traveller, Karyn Brown, from Edinburgh, Scotland. She has been exploring the United States for four years. They went downstream in a borrowed canoe. Children’s descriptions of the places they pass through are loaded with information about how the earth was formed. Downstream, they frequently go on land and find fossils, evidence of when the land was under water as part of an ocean. They discover potsherds and other artifacts that bear witness to other cultures that lived thousands of years ago. The Archaic, Fremont and Anasazi (now known as Ancestral Pueblos) 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 park’s unique and special features. Childs is impressive with his dedication and perseverance which allows him to roam all areas of the park and survive and thrive. He revels in the land, its long history and its great physical variety. It attracts adventurers who have similar feelings about the park, although everyone experiences it in their own way.
Childs is beyond knowledgeable about the history and geology of Canyonlands. It also acquaints readers with the living inhabitants of the park. Large mammals such as desert sheep, mule deer, coyotes and cougars make welcome appearances. Smaller creatures like mice and pack rats are also featured. Birds and insects are part of the important composition of the park’s ecosystem. Childs conveys valuable facts and insights into how they all contribute to the lifeblood of Canyonlands.
“Stone Desert” is light, but it is a dense tome. It will appeal to readers fascinated by the natural world, past and present, the ancient history of how our earth was formed and the peoples who came before it. Childs immerses himself in the experience, becoming almost one with the land and its creatures. “Stone Desert” is a revelation to experience as a tribute to a particular part of the Southwest.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer, and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.