Adventures of the Mind: Six Armchair Reads for Exploring America’s Wild Places
This year, COVID-19 has many of us cozying up at home for the holidays. Thankfully, you don’t need to step out your door to experience some of America’s deepest and wildest wilderness. We’ve gathered some of our favorite books that will transport you from the granite cliff faces of Yosemite to the salty breeze of a tiny island in Maine.
Take this opportunity to do a little armchair traveling while we are living life in a smaller space and at a slower pace. We will all be that much more ready to hit the road again when the time comes.
by Edward Abbey
This iconic piece of nature writing, based on Abbey’s summer stints as an Arches National Park ranger in the late 1950s, remains as relevant now as it was when published in 1968. While on a quest to experience nature in its purest form, Abbey explores the paradox of existing as a solitary, independent man in the desert, while still participating as a member of the greater ecosystem. Readers will find a lot to think on and to anticipate with Abbey’s vivid descriptions of the harsh Southwestern landscapes near Moab woven into his message of conservation.
My First Summer in the Sierra
by John Muir
This account of John Muir’s first encounters with the Yosemite Valley has been luring visitors to California since this book was published in 1911. Follow along as “The Father of the National Parks” and founder of the Sierra Club spends the summer of 1869 working as a shepherd in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The budding naturalist’s notes are flush with detailed descriptions of the Sierra’s flora and fauna, tales of explorations of now-famous landmarks, and several life lessons Muir gleaned from four months of sheep observation. This is a must-read before exploring any of the areas Muir later worked to conserve.
Goes Well With: Stunning Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks
by Dan Flores
Bison, pronghorn antelope, wild horses, grey wolves and grizzly bears are species that Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park visitors count themselves lucky to see today. According to environmental historian Dan Flores, just 200 years ago these same species were roaming the American plains in numbers we can’t fathom.
Flores follows the sagas of six different species over thousands of years until their respective declines at the hands of pioneers, hunters, ranchers and federal killing programs in the 19th and 20th centuries. This, combined with the “Big History” of the grassland ecosystems we encounter in the American West, will give readers a deeper appreciation for the vistas and wildlife encounters in the Western states.
Goes Well With: Zapata Ranch: Shirkers Need Not Apply
The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island
by Linda Greenlaw
Travel to the Isle au Haut, a tiny island in Maine’s Acadia National Park with 70 year-round residents, 30 of whom are related to author Linda Greenlaw. After a lengthy and high-risk career as a sword-fisherman (which landed her a role in the famous The Perfect Storm), Greenlaw returns to rural island life.
The account balances the lighter sides of rediscovering her family and home with the darker aspects of island life, including boating accidents and conflicts that can rock small communities. If the descriptions of Acadia’s landscapes aren’t enough to get you excited about coastal Maine, the description of the seafood certainly will.
Goes Well With: Luxury Holiday to New England
by Nate Blakeslee
The grey wolf’s presence has been one of the most polarizing issues of the American West since populations were reintroduced in the 1990s. In American Wolf, Blakeslee uses O-Six, a grey alpha matriarch with a rabid social media following, to illustrate the wolf’s struggle to reclaim its place and restore balance in Yellowstone National Park.
Blakeslee collaborates with park ranger Rick McIntyre, who spent 15 years carefully following the wolf’s return to the park. Together, they follow O-Six’s pack and observe the pressures they face from ranchers, hunters, politicians and well-meaning tourists, all of whom affect where and how wolves can live.
Goes Well With: Wolves, Wildfire and Water
by Steven E. Ambrose
Follow the Corps of Discovery’s epic adventure across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains, and down the Columbia River from the perspective of Captain Meriwether Lewis. Lewis and Clark may be household names, but Undaunted Courage supplies a wealth of previously unknown information, while capturing the suspense, political drama, romance, tragedy and danger that accompanied the 8,000 mile journey. Ambrose provides context for the expedition within the Jefferson Presidency, early Native American policies, and the opening of the West to the nation.
Goes Well With: Yellowstone and Grand Teton Road Trip