Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 22, 2009

Excerpt from essay by Edward Abbey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:11 am


The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is something special.  Something else.  Something strange, marvelous, full of wonders.  So far as I know, there is no other region on earth much like it, or even remotely like it.  Nowhere else have we had this lucky combination of vast sedimentary rock formations exposed to a desert climate, of a great plateau carved by major rivers — the Green, the San Juan, the Colorado — into such a wonderland of form and color.  Add a few volcanoes, the standing necks of which can still be seen, and cinder cones and lava flows, and at least four separate laccolithic mountain ranges nicely distributed about the region; add more hills, holes, humps and hollows, more reefs, folds, salt domes, swells and grabens, more buttes, benches and mesas, more synclines, monoclines and anticlines than you can ever hope to see and explore in one lifetime, and you begin to arrive at an approximate picture of the Plateau’s surface appearance.

An approximate beginning.  A picture framed by sky and time in the world of natural appearances.  Despite the best efforts of a small army of writers, painters, photographers, scientists, explorers, Indians, cowboys, and wilderness guides, the landscape of the Colorado Plateau lies still beyond the reach of reasonable words.  Or unreasonable representations.  This is a landscape which has to be seen to be believed, and even then, confronted directly by the human senses, it strains credulity and retreats a little beyond complete belief.

The canyon country does not always inspire love.  To many it appears barren, hostile, repellent; a fearsome, mostly waterless land of rock and heat, sand dunes and quicksand, of cactus, thornbush, scorpion, rattlesnake and agoraphobical distances.  To those who see our land in this way the best reply is, “Yes, you are right, it is a dangerous and terrible place.  Enter at your own risk.  Carry water.  Avoid the noonday sun.  Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently.”


  1. love that read. Thanks for that.

    Comment by Lisa — July 22, 2009 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  2. I looked up Edward Abbey on Wikipedia and found the following description of his last wishes which seems consistent with the words he penned.

    Begin quote:
    He wanted his body transported in the bed of a pickup truck. He wanted to be buried as soon as possible. He wanted no undertakers. No embalming, for Godsake! No coffin. Just an old sleeping bag… Disregard all state laws concerning burial. “I want my body to help fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or sagebrush or tree.” said the message.

    As for his funeral: He wanted gunfire, and a little music. “No formal speeches desired, though the deceased will not interfere if someone feels the urge. But keep it all simple and brief.” And then a big happy raucous wake. He wanted more music, gay and lively music. He wanted bagpipes. “And a flood of beer and booze! Lots of singing, dancing, talking, hollering, laughing, and lovemaking.” said the message. And meat! Beans and chilis! And corn on the cob. Only a man deeply in love with life and hopelessly soft on humanity would specify, from beyond the grave, that his mourners receive corn on the cob.

    A 2003 Outside article described how his friends honored his request:

    “The last time Ed smiled was when I told him where he was going to be buried,” says Doug Peacock, an environmental crusader in Edward Abbey’s inner circle. On March 14, 1989, the day Abbey died from esophageal bleeding at 62, Peacock, along with his friend Jack Loeffler, his father-in-law Tom Cartwright, and his brother-in-law Steve Prescott, wrapped Abbey’s body in his blue sleeping bag, packed it with dry ice, and loaded Cactus Ed into Loeffler’s Chevy pickup. After stopping at a liquor store in Tucson for five cases of beer, and some whiskey to pour on the grave, they drove off into the desert. The men searched for the right spot the entire next day and finally turned down a long rutted road, drove to the end, and began digging. That night they buried Ed and toasted the life of America’s prickliest and most outspoken environmentalist.

    Abbey’s body was buried in the Cabeza Prieta Desert in Pima County, Arizona, where “you’ll never find it”. The friends carved a marker on a nearby stone, reading:
    No Comment

    End of quote

    Comment by Dad — July 23, 2009 @ 6:14 am | Reply

    • Abbey was a curmudgeon, and people either loved him or hated him. Nobody was neutral. His writings are so colorful because he himself was so colorful. Thanks for the postscript about his last wishes. We occasionally have visitors come in and ask conspiratorily where is the spot where Abbey’s old trailer sat, when he rangered here. We aren’t allowed to tell because it is an ARCH 3 site (archeologically endangered) and therefore secret.

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 23, 2009 @ 6:24 am | Reply

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