My favorite books about Utah Canyon Country

Why am I passionate about this?

Long ago, in college in Colorado, I discovered Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire—the classic that grew from journals he kept while a ranger at Utah’s Arches National Park. I’d grown up in the West, visiting national parks and revering park rangers. Abbey gave me the model—live and write in these wild places. After graduating, I snagged jobs myself as a seasonal ranger/naturalist at Arches and Capitol Reef national parks. I was thrilled. Since then, I’ve spent decades exploring and photographing Western landscapes. After working on 25 books about natural history, Native peoples, and conservation, Capitol Reef still remains my “home park” and Utah Canyon Country my spiritual home.  

I wrote...

The Capitol Reef Reader

By Stephen Trimble,

Book cover of The Capitol Reef Reader

What is my book about?

In The Capitol Reef Reader, I collect writing that best captures the spirit of Utah’s least-known national park in personal narratives, philosophical riffs, and historic and scientific records. Editing this anthology was a labor of love. I arrived in Capitol Reef in 1975 to work a season for the National Park Service as a ranger. I began reading everything I could find about the park’s cliffs, canyons, and characters, and I've never stopped. I'm endlessly intrigued by the challenge of responding to this place in language.

The Reader condenses this rich literature, featuring fifty writers, young and old, who have graced these canyons with their attention and imagination—along with my photographs from 45 years of wandering in the park.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky

Stephen Trimble Why did I love this book?

Ellen Meloy just might be my favorite Utah writer. She’s smart and witty. She’s laugh-out-loud funny. She’s self-deprecatory and never preachy. She gets her natural history right. And her writing is gorgeous. She died far too young, at 58, in 2004, and I miss her. As she wanders outward across Bears Ears National Monument from her home in Bluff, Ellen’s musings apply equally to the slickrock spine of the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef. So I was determined to include her in my own book. I chose an excerpt from The Anthropology of Turquoise—a terrific piece on sensual canyon country wildflowers, “slickrotica.” In her book, Ellen follows turquoise to the ends of the earth, but she always brings us back to her home territory in the canyons. 

By Ellen Meloy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Anthropology of Turquoise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this invigorating mix of natural history and adventure, artist-naturalist Ellen Meloy uses turquoise—the color and the gem—to probe deeper into our profound human attachment to landscape.

From the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Bahamas to her home ground on the high plateaus and deep canyons of the Southwest, we journey with Meloy through vistas of both great beauty and great desecration. Her keen vision makes us look anew at ancestral mountains, turquoise seas, and even motel swimming pools. She introduces us to Navajo “velvet grandmothers” whose attire and aesthetics absorb the vivid palette of…

Book cover of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became the Battlefront of American Public Lands

Stephen Trimble Why did I love this book?

Former president Trump’s evisceration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments kept all of us canyon country activists busy for years with protests and op-eds. The backstory leading to President Biden’s restoration of both monuments pretty much outlines the history of conservation in America. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, as well as Capitol Reef, were part of an enormous Escalante National Monument proposed in the 1930s that likely would have prevented the tragic flooding of Glen Canyon by Lake Powell. Jonathan Thompson recounts these historic fights over public lands by focusing on San Juan County, home to Canyonlands National Park and Bears Ears—the first preserve proposed by Native nations—bringing us right up to the 2020s. Controversies abound, and Thompson is an engaging storyteller and careful journalist.

By Jonathan P. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sagebrush Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Thompson's investigative chops are impressive."


San Juan County, Utah, contains some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, rich in natural wonders and Indigenous culture and history. But it's also long been plagued with racism, bitterness, and politics as twisted as the beckoning canyons. In 2017, en route to the Valley of the Gods with his spouse, a Colorado man closed the gate on a corral. Two weeks later, the couple was facing felony charges. Award–winning journalist Jonathan P. Thompson places the case in its fraught historical context and—alongside personal stories from a life shaped by slickrock…

Book cover of Searching for Tao Canyon

Stephen Trimble Why did I love this book?

I just missed seeing Glen Canyon. I didn’t start exploring southern Utah until the early 1970s, as Lake Powell began to fill, drowning this most beautiful canyon and its astonishing tributaries. In these same years, Jeremy Schmidt and his buddies were searching for the best remaining slot canyons, returning with extraordinary photographs from places few yet knew about. Jeremy is a colleague and old friend, and so I’d seen a few of these photos. Here, finally, the three photographers have collected their pioneering work in a perfectly printed and designed book. Jeremy’s text contains some of the best recent writing about the Colorado Plateau. Their book carries us deep into the maze of sandstone cathedrals along the Colorado River and celebrates the adventure of exploring this glorious country in our youth.

By Pat Morrow, Jeremy Schmidt, Art Tomey

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Searching for Tao Canyon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning book of retro, mind-bending photography that unlocks a hidden world of natural wonder, personal reflection and outdoor adventure.

More than 40 years ago, British Columbia photographer Art Twomey stumbled across a narrow crack in the desert floor in northern Arizona. It was a slot canyon, a stone crevasse – narrow, carved by water, its interior lost in shadow when seen by a curious person peering in from the rim.

Twomey’s photos from that day were unlike anything he had ever put on emulsion. They pictured a dream world, an intricate underground fantasy where lines bent, topsy met turvy,…

Book cover of Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Stephen Trimble Why did I love this book?

Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt famously described his first reading of Stegner’s book about John Wesley Powell: it felt like a brick had been thrown through a windowpane, transforming his view of a West he thought he knew. The same thing happened to me when I read the book while serving as a Capitol Reef seasonal naturalist in my 20s. No one else writes like Stegner, who was born on the frontier and grew into a scholar of that frontier. In this book, he takes us along on Powell’s harrowing 1869 river trip down the Colorado River. And then Stegner uses Powell’s growing understanding of our arid West to illuminate the very nature of that desert West. Utah Canyon Country lies at the heart of his story.

By Wallace Stegner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beyond the Hundredth Meridian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the “dean of Western writers” (The New York Times) and the Pulitzer Prize winning–author of Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety, a fascinating look at the old American West and the man who prophetically warned against the dangers of settling it
In Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Wallace Stegner recounts the sucesses and frustrations of John Wesley Powell, the distinguished ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, and the homeland of Indian tribes of the American Southwest. A prophet without honor who had a profound understanding of the American West, Powell warned long ago of…

Book cover of A Quick Trip to Moab: Insurrection in the Wilderness

Stephen Trimble Why did I love this book?

Kevin Jones’s rollicking page-turner takes place in the San Rafael Swell, just north of Capitol Reef—my home territory. All these southern Utah canyons share the same wild beauty and face the same threats. Jones was famously fired as Utah state archaeologist for standing up for Native rights, and his deep love of cultural history and rock art elevate this thriller into the ranks of regional classics. In his yarn, a regular guy—our hero, Stan—stops along the highway with his dog, Speck. A desperate woman, Lily, hides there and needs help. As all three are swept into a chase through the Swell, pursued by armed anti-wilderness extremists, Jones’s characters thoughtfully ponder the future of public lands while racing for their lives. We’re with them all the way. 

By Kevin T. Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Quick Trip to Moab as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anti-wilderness protesters have taken over a portion of eastern Utah. Stan Watson, driving to Moab, stops by the highway to walk his dog Speck, and encounters a woman who begs him for help. When he offers Lily and her injured husband a ride, they are confronted by armed men, and Stan is in for a nightmare he had not anticipated. Chased through the wildlands by rag-tag extremists riding off-road vehicles, Stan, Lily, and Frank, a lost reporter, face dehydration, starvation, and murder at the hands of their pursuers. When Stan and Frank become incapacitated, Lily and Speck lead them through…

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By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

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What is my book about?

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During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

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By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

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The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…

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