For the last month I’ve been slowly digesting this book to review for a historical quarterly. And when the review eventually shows up in print I’ll post a link. But I wanted to at least draw attention to this thought-provoking and enriching history now rather than later. For those who have traveled through the canyon country of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, this book brings to together a myriad of environmental and cultural divisions seen through the lens of roads. On first look, it may sound as dry as the desert it describes, but trust me, this book is a fascinating work that has deepened my appreciation for the redrock landscape, the issues it provokes, and the history it contains. From the back of the book:
The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona—a celebrated desert of rock and sand punctuated by gorges and mesas—is a region hotly contested among vying and disparate interests, from industrial developers to wilderness preservation advocates. Roads are central to the conflicts raging in an area perceived as one of the last large roadless places in the continental United States. The canyon country in fact contains an extensive network of dirt trails and roads, many originally constructed under the authority of a one-sentence statute in an 1866 mining law, later known as R.S. 2477. While well-groomed and paved roads came to signify the industrialization of the modern age, twentieth-century conservationists have regarded roads as intrusive human imprints on the nation’s wild lands. Roads connect rural communities, spur economic growth, and in some cases blend harmoniously into the landscape, but they also fracture and divide, disturb wildlife and habitat, facilitate industrial development, and spoil wilderness.
Rogers reflects on the meaning of roads amid environmental conflicts that continue to grip the canyon country. Transporting readers from road controversies like the infamous Burr Trail battle to the contentious web of roads in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument to off-roading in Arch Canyon, Rogers demonstrates how the conflicts are deeply rooted in history and culture. The first permanent Anglo-American settlers in the region were Mormon pioneers and current views about land and resource use in southern Utah often derive from stories about how those pioneer ancestors defied wilderness to found their communities in the desert. Roads in the Wilderness will be of interest to environmentalists, historians, and those who live in the American West, challenging readers to think about the canyon country and the stories embedded in the land.
My only complaint. I think they should have used a different photograph for the cover. Thought it may be cliche, the dirt road that follows the Colorado River in Dead Horse Point State Park would have made a more striking cover.