Top Books to inspire your trip to Utah
Top Books to inspire your trip to Utah
In preparation for a trip to a region, I like to dive into the literature written in or about an area.
Ask someone what Utah is famous for and they will likely give you one of three answers: The natural landscapes of the Mighty 5 National Parks, Skiing and/or the Sundance Festival, the home of the Mormon church and possibly Westerns.
Most of the books mentioned relate to the environment and landscapes that Utah is known for and that I explored on my trips. as well as a few westerns that have defined this region of America.
I have also added a few books relating to the to Mormon religion. Because the population of Utah is largely Mormon, the church has a strong influence on the state’s cultural life and traditions. Recent surveys details that ~49% of Utah’s residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While in 2007, the Mormon population was estimated at 60%
I purposefully avoid commentary or criticism of religion or politics in my travel writing as my main focus is to take in an area by asking questions. I do think it’s important to learn about religion & politics, though, as it is a part of the people and culture that I am exploring.
by Edward Abbey
Desert Solitaire is a collection of stories about author’s life as a park ranger and conservationist in Utah’s beautiful desert. The book details his unique adventures and conflicts, from dealing with the damage caused by development of the land or excessive tourism, to discovering a dead body.
Desert Solitaire is not just a collection of one man’s stories, the book is also a philosophical memoir, full of Abbey’s reflections on the desert as a paradox, at once beautiful and liberating, but also isolating and cruel. Often compared to Thoreau’s Walden, Desert Solitaire is a powerful discussion of life’s mysteries set against the stirring backdrop of the American southwestern wilderness.
by Edward Abbey
Another Edward Abbey book about the Utah landscapes he lived & worked in as a National Park Ranger, but this time fiction.
Ex-Green Beret George Hayduke has returned from war to find his beloved southwestern desert threatened by industrial development. Joining with Bronx exile and feminist saboteur Bonnie Abzug, wilderness guide and outcast Mormon Seldom Seen Smith, and libertarian billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., Hayduke is ready to fight the power—taking on the strip miners, clear-cutters, and the highway, dam, and bridge builders who are threatening the natural habitat.
The Monkey Wrench Gang is a light if not goofy read but with an environmental message intertwined.
by Aron Ralston
If you watched the movie 127 hours, this is the memoir written by the actual adventurer, Aron Ralston.
In April 2003, 28-year-old Aron Ralston took a day trip in Blue John Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Shortly after beginning his solo excursion into the canyon, a boulder came loose he became pinned in the canyon. Trapped for 127 hours (more than 5 days) with limited water and food, no help was underway as Ralston had not told anyone where he was going.
The book reveals Aron’s mindset before, during, and after as he makes the eventual decision to save himself by amputating his right arm. A survival story and the ultimate warning about safety before entering the wilderness. As Ralston says “It’s me. I chose this. I chose all of this — this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. I’ve been moving towards it my whole life.”
by Katie Lee
In 1963, Glen Canyon, a 170-mile gorge that spans the border between southern Utah and northern Arizona along the Colorado River, was flooded and Glen Canyon dam built to generate hydroelectric power. The flooded gorge became Lake Powell, now a recreation area.
Before the creation of the dam, during the 1950s and early 1960s, Lee–an actress, folk singer, song writer and author –made 16 trips down the river, exploring the canyon and venturing into little-known side canyons. After her first experience running the river, Lee fell in love with Glen Canyon, becoming a part of regular expeditions on which she would sing and play her songs for the passengers. In the journals she kept, portions of which are excerpted here, the author successfully evokes the magnificent trails, beaches and waterfalls, as well as the unusual colors and smells, of the canyon.
by Wallace Stegner
This book is not about Mormonism directly but about the country that the Mormon’s settled most specifically in Utah to include a collection of 28 essays divided into Mormon and Gentile sections. The Mormon sections include a look at the Mormon habits that stood in stark contrast to the frenzied recklessness of the American West. Opposed to the often prodigal individualism of the West, Mormons lived in closely knit – some say ironclad – communities.
The book also looks at almost every aspect of Utah history and lore, from polygamy to Butch Cassidy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
by Brady Udall
Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to twenty-eight children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart.
Brady Udall tells a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future.
by Zane Grey
Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic from the popular Western genre.
Lassiter, a gunslinging avenger in black, who shows up in a remote Utah town just in time to save the young and beautiful rancher Jane Withersteen from having to marry a Mormon elder against her will. Lassiter is on his own quest, one that ends when he discovers a secret grave on Jane’s grounds.
by Louis L’Amour
Louis L’Amour for me is synonymous with the Western novel. With over 120 books, most of them Westerns, he is practiced at his storytelling. His books are an easy read with a relatable plot. Some call them romance novels for men.
L’Amour supposedly writes about places he’s visited and most of them are in Utah. The descriptions of the canyons and creeks will have you looking for them on your trip to Utah.
by Jared Farmer
The book is focused on the Utah Valley, historically the home of Ute Indians. The author explores how and why the area was transformed by newcomers.
The story is layered in religion, tradition, history and legend including relations between the Utes and the Mormons, the Native American legends, marketers who transformed the region into a hikers paradise, Robert Redford discovering the lush canyon in his movie career and coming back again and again before developing the Sundance Festival.
by Norman Mailer
This Pulitzer Prize-winning true crime novel depicts the events related to the execution of Gary Gilmore for murder by the state of Utah.
Gary Gilmore became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous. The book not only tell the story of Gary Gilmore, but those of the men and women caught up in this event.
The book was central to the national debate over the revival of capital punishment by the Supreme Court. Gilmore was the first person to be executed in the United States since the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976.
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