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Desert Reading List- Guidebooks, Archaeology, Primitive Skills, Wildlife, Plants

Listed below are just some of the endless titles about the desert in general, survival, primitive skills, the archaeology, cultural history, flora, fauna, and geology of the desert. We have links for many of our recommended titles which take you directly to the book at By purchasing these titles through us you are helping to support our site and enabling us to spend more time bringing you detailed information on the desert and all it has to offer.

Click on a topic below to go to that section:
Books on Archaeology
Books on Survival and Primitive Skills
History of the Four Corners region
Animals and Tracking

Books about the desert and desert travels:

Ed Abbey Desert Solitaire
Ed Abbey
- Start with Desert Solitaire. Then read everything else he has written. See Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness at



craig Childs The Secret Knowledge of Water
Craig Childs
- The Secret Knowledge of Water:Discovering the Essence of the American Desert is one of my favorite books. It gives a different perspective on the importance of water, while really being informative about finding and using water in the desert.



Desert reader: A Literary Companion
The Desert Reader: A Literary Companion
This book is a great resource for exploring the desert travels of writers through time. It includes excerpts from such authors as Mary Austin, Jedediah Smith, Ed Abbey, Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda, Percey Shelley, T.E. Lawrence, Charles Doughty, Pliny, and Herodotus to give a short list.


The Desert by John Van DYke
The Desert
by John C. Van Dyke. First published in 1901, this book documents the solo travels of Van Dyke. For three years he traveled through the American southwest and into Mexico observing the beauty of the desert.

On Desert Trails Everett Ruess
On Desert Trails With Everett Ruess
- A traveler's journal with letters and poems. Includes his sketches and wood block prints. Ruess disappeared in 1934, at age 20, near the town of Escalante. His disappearance is one of the region's great unsolved mysteries. His writings are captivating and should not be overlooked by anyone who truly wants to experience the call of the southwest desert. Also see the book Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty by W.L. Rusho for more about his life.


General history of the Four Corners region:


Books on survival and primitive skills:

Larry Dean Olsen- Outdoor Survival Skills- This is an absolute must-buy if you are at all interested in learning about primitive skills.
Tom Brown- Start with his Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival. Any and all of his books are worth reading, re-reading and keeping by your side.
Cody Lundin- 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive - Informative and funny. What more could you want in asurvival guide? Gives lots of basic information on being prepared and handy tips and suggestions throughout. You won't be sorry you bought it. See his other and equally fun guide: When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes
Mark Johnson- The Ultimate Desert Handbook : A Manual for Desert Hikers, Campers and Travelers.Not sure if the title holds true- this is another title that I have not reviewed personally. But I have read and heard good things about it.

Margaret M. Wheat- Survival Arts Of The Primitive Paiutes- This is one of my favorite books on primitive skills ever. First, it is about the place and people I grew up with. The woman on the cover, Wuzi George, would come to our classrooms in elementary school and show us the ways of the old people. I clearly recall being facinated by this and I am sure it has a lot to do with my studying and working as an anthropoogist. Not only does the book cover primitve skills from the perspective of an anthropologist, it gives descriptions and almost directions on the creation and use of items such as tule (cattail) boats, mats, decoys and houses, the most delicate-triggered deadfall trap, rabbit nets, making clothing, and much more. It is a must-buy if you are serious about learning the old ways.

Guidebooks for Specific Areas:

Here are just ten of Michael Kelsey's 30 or so guidebooks for various locations:


Other guidebooks for the area:

Books On Tracking and Animals:

Tom Brown- This is another of Tom Brown's many titles that will definitely be helpful in achieving the mindset, and the skills, necessary to trail and observe animals in the wild. See Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking



Here are my top choices for books on human tracking. I consult these books often, reread passages and chapters, and keep them nearby as references. See our Tracking Reading List Page for a complete selection of our favorites.

Mammals of the Canyon Country: A Handbook of Mammals of Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity by David Armstrong. This book was published in 1982 and is only availble used as far as I can tell. It is well worth picking up if you can find it easily enough. It includes lots of details on common species including weights, sizes, dental formulas and even cranial measurements.

River Guides and Books About Rivers:

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition
By Marc Reisner. While not a river guide, this volume- and it is a volume- will tell you everything you need to know about the recent history of the rivers of the American west, about man's conquest and dominion over nature. Be advised you will not be happy reading what Resier spent years researching, compiling and writing. You will be disillusioned, if you are not already, with the American political process and democracy as we know it. (I recommend reading parts of this books interspersed with the works of Ed Abbey- start with The Monkey Wrench Gang- it may make you feel better.)

Sunk Without a Sound : The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde
By Brad Dimock. This is a great read. I could not put it down once I started it. Highly recommended, especially if you plan to float the Grand Canyon. This book documents the lives and disappearance in 1928 of Glen and Bessie Hyde while on their honeymoon voyage down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Dimock retraces their steps in his own wooden boat.

Exploration Of The Colorado River And Its Canyons
- by John Wesley Powell. This book is an account of Powells' 1869 explorations of the Green and Colorado Rivers. While not exactly a river guide, it is a great book to have along as you float, especially if you stop for a look or to camp at one of the locations that Powell describes. It is really indispensable if you are interested in the history of the west and western rivers.

For the Green and Colorado within Canyonlands National Park:

Michael Kelsey has many great guidebooks out there. Here are a couple specific to Canyonlands for floating, hiking, biking, and history..


Belknap's Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide All New Edition
A waterproof guide with strip maps of the entire float, this is a great supplement to Kelsey's informative volume.


Guide to the San Juan River
- The Rivermaps series of guides are printed on waterproof paper and highlight, in strip map form, the river in front of you. They are arranged so you read them from the bottom of the page to the top. Then you flip the page and you are back at the bottom again. Pages opposite the maps contain information about the section of river you are floating through- history, geology, and archaeology.

San Juan River Guide by Lisa Kearsley- another popular guide for the lower San Juan river.







All Trails Illustrated maps are strong, tear-resistant, waterproof maps that you can actually make notes on with a ballpoint pen.

Trails Illustrated map number 246- Trails Illustrated- Canyonlands National Park Maze District, NE Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Utah- This map covers much of the Dirty Devil River float and also the northwest part of the Dark Canyon Wilderness- it is a good supplement to map number 703, below.

Trails Illustrated map number 706- Trails Illustrated Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa Plateau - This is the map you will need for planning trips on Cedar Mesa and into Grand Gulch. If you plan to visit Grand Gulch, you need this map. I recommend USGS 1:24,000 maps for the acutal hiking, but this map for planning.

trails illustrated canyonlands national park map number 210 Trails illustrated map number 210- Canyonlands National Park/Needles & Island in the Sky - This map covers much of the Green River Town to the Confluence float on the Green River. Also includes Colorado River from Potash to the beginning of Cataract Canyon. You will also need the Moab North map to complete the Green River.

trails illustrated moab north map number 500Trails Illustrated map number 500- Moab North - Covers part of the Green River, also the Colorado River from Fish Ford to Highway 191 at Moab.

Trails Illustrated map number 501- Moab South - a continuation of the above for Moab and points south.





trails illustrated manti-lasal map number 703 Trails Illustrated map number 703-Manti Lasal National Forest - This map covers most of the Dark Canyon Wilderness. Also see map number 246, above.

Ethnographic accounts of the Navajo and Hopi:


Books on Archaeology of the Southwest:

Anasazi Basketmaker: Papers from the 1990 Wetherill - Grand Gulch Symposium (Cultural Resource Series No. 24) - This volume is indispensable if you are interested in the prehistory, as well as the history of archaeological research, in Grand Gulch.

Richard Wetherill - Anasazi: Pioneer Explorer of Southwestern Ruins - Richard Wetherill was one of the first archaeologists to work in Grand Gulch, not to mention at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, among many others. This is another great resource for uncovering all that is known about the archaeology of Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch.

Wolfkiller: Wisdom From a Nineteenth-Century Navajo Shepherd - The writings of Louisa Wade Wetherill as told by Harvey Leake. The stories were told to Wetherill by a Navajo man while she lived at Oljato, Utah and then Kayenta, Arizona.


General Titles on Southwestern Rock Art:

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