Don’t look to ‘Outdoors in the Southwest’ for conquests
There may be 1,500-year-old handprints on Andrew Gulliford’s new book, but it’s Edward Abbey’s fingerprints that are all over it.
“Outdoors in the Southwest: An Adventure Anthology” was edited by Gulliford, professor of History and Environmental Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
The collection of previously published work, new essays and oral history interviews is designed to appeal to both students studying outdoors recreation and education, and general readers interested in the changing landscape of the West.
“It’s not a nature guide, it’s not a hiking guide, it’s not a guide book,” Gulliford said. “It’s sort of the aesthetics of the outdoors and why that’s important.”
In the preface, Gulliford writes: “This is a book about exploring the Southwest and the Colorado Plateau in a reasonable, sane and meaningful way. It’s not about how many peaks you can bag in a day or the number of river miles paddled. Rather, it’s about learning from expeditions, outdoor leadership, and the Southwest landscapes we enjoy.”
The storytellers in “Outdoors in the Southwest” include Southwestern writers Abbey, Barbara Kingsolver and Terry Tempest Williams, as well as scholars, guides and river rats, who share their cautionary tales of flash floods, lost rafts and lightning strikes.
Gulliford is a seasoned outdoorsman, witnessed by his own writing and photography, including the book’s cover image: those 1,500-year-old handprints — actually reverse handprints, created by white paint being blown over the artists’ hands — at a site in southeast Utah.
As for Abbey’s “fingerprints,” Gulliford offers multiple bows to the environmental writer and activist — “Cactus Ed” — throughout the book, including a postcard Abbey wrote to Gulliford in 1989, a drawing of Abbey by Mike Caplanis, a photo of him in the introduction and Gulliford’s dedication “to Ed Abbey who was never quiet about defending America’s wild lands.”
Abbey’s 1968 “Desert Solitaire” describes two summers working as a ranger at then Arches National Monument in Utah. His 1975 novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” inspired radical environmental groups and the term “monkeywrenching” for eco-sabotage.
Gulliford said it was important to introduce students majoring in outdoor recreation, outdoor education and adventure education to the provocative environmental writing of Abbey, who helped galvanize a country around stewardship of wild lands.
“I’ve spent a decade trying to get students to understand his writing, his character and his curmudgeon nature,” Gulliford said.
Abbey’s writing, he said, encourages a “commitment to place — the understanding that development and ecological damage in the West need not be accepted. As he says we have to ‘fight for the West.’”
Useful in a classroom setting are study questions in the back of chapters inspired by the reading and the reader’s personal experience, such as: “How have you, in your adventures, learned to ‘read the landscape’? How have these stories affected you and what have you learned? What new ‘languages’ or landscapes would you like to learn how to read? What intrigues you about them?”
Gulliford said many of the texts in outdoors education classes contain the stilted writing of exercise science and physical education programs.
“My goal was to take the parameters of outdoor education but provide writing that was exciting for this generation. It is so personal it really gets students’ attention.”
The anthology serves to pass on the wisdom learned about wild lands, going back to seminal movements.
“We’ve saved 110 million acres of wilderness,” Gulliford said, “but we need a younger generation to get out and learn about it and enjoy it. There are people seriously concerned about the legacy of environmental activism in the 1960s may not go forth. The green generation is graying and so we need younger advocates.”
“Outdoors in the Southwest” is published by the University of Oklahoma Press and retails for $26.95.
Gulliford’s other books are “Preserving Western History,” “Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions,” “Boomtown Blues: Colorado Oil Shale” and “America’s Country Schools.” He also writes for The Daily Sentinel, and his columns, essays and articles can be found in the Opinion section and Outdoors pages.