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Roads in the Wilderness: Conflict in Canyon Country

In late 2013 the University of Utah Press published my manuscript on contemporary land use and wilderness debates in an iconic corner of the American West. My work suggests that modern conflicts in Utah’s canyon country are endemic, rooted in heritage and culture and driven by religious and secular ways of seeing the land.

In particular these contending perspectives are reflected in the built landscape. Using one especially ubiquitous human imprint on the land as both trope and subject, I explore the political and cultural meanings of roads as symbols of both progress and exploitation. Taking this approach allows me to explore a somewhat neglected aspect of canyon country history and literature. I do not linger on celebrated landmarks. I travel the roads that traverse the lesser known yet no less remarkable landscape of the high desert. Echo Park, the arches of Moab, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon are significant, but I stop at the in-between places that buttress their stories. Roads connect the landmarks; they are first cause, and, in the end, at the heart of modern debates over wilderness and land use in the canyon country.

My work meditates on how people perceive and move about the land, the technology they wield to manipulate it, and the broader cultural and environmental transformations that result.

My manuscript won the following award from the University of Utah Press:

  • The 2012 Wallace Stegner Prize in American Environmental or Western History, for the best monograph submitted to The University of Utah Press in the subject areas of American environmental or western history

I talked about my book on BlogWest, and it received positive reviews by High Country News and the Salt Lake Tribune.


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