Earth Notes - Edward Abbey

Flagstaff, AZ – The writings of the late Edward Abbey grew out of the Colorado Plateau and Arizona's emptiest places. His inspiration came in large part from stints as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park, near Moab.

This is the most beautiful place on Earth, declared Abbey in his 1968 book Desert Solitaire. The canyonlands, he wrote, the slickrock, the red dust, and the burnt cliffs, and the lonely sky all that which lies beyond the end of the roads. . . . Weird shapes like petrified elephants, dinosaurs, stone-age hobgoblins. . . . I put on a coat and step outside. In the center of the world, God's navel.

Abbey became a passionate advocate for the preservation of the southwest desert. Wilderness, he argued, is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit.

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey described how such a refuge lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyons to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure that the desert seems to promise.

Arches National Park now attracts tens of thousands more visitors than when Ed Abbey was its sole resident ranger. Moab has mushroomed into a crossroads for mountain bikers, whitewater rafters, and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. Yet 19 years after his passing, even curmudgeonly Abbey might agree that the surroundings still enthrall, haunted by vultures and, as he wrote, untouched by the human mind.

-Richard Mahler