From engaging stories of ancient cultures and modern-day exploration to comprehensive field guides, this essential Utah reading list dives deep into the history and natural environment of Utah’s Canyonlands region. If you’re preparing for an Arches or Canyonlands National Park trip, you’ll surely want to put a few of these books on your must-read list.
Essential Canyonlands & Arches Reading
Desert Solitaire | By Edward Abbey
Eloquent and laugh-out-loud funny, in this beloved classic Abbey writes about the Colorado Plateau desert and his experiences as a ranger at Arches National Park. It’s considered one of the great works on the value of the desert.
Exploring Canyonlands and Arches National Parks | By Bill Schneider
A comprehensive guide to the trails and backcountry roads of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
Desert Southwest Field Guides
Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country | By David Williams, Illustrated by Gloria Brown
A illustrated field guide to the high desert of the Colorado Plateau and the nine national parks of the region, including Arches and Canyonlands.
Canyon Country Wildflowers | By Damian Fagan
This comprehensive field guide covers 190 of the most commonly encountered wildflowers, shrubs and trees of the Four Corners area.
Sibley Birds West: Field Guide to Birds of Western North America | By David Sibley
A compact, geographically-specific version of the Sibley Guide with range maps, glorious illustrations and expanded, extremely valuable descriptions of each bird.
The Ancient People & Archaeological History of the Southwest
A look at the ancient cultures of the Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Eastern Shoshoni, and Ute peoples, with a special emphasis on specific regions including Dinosaur National Monument, the canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers, and the canyonlands of Utah.
In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest | By David Roberts
An exuberant, engaging account of archaeological adventures in the desert Southwest.
The Rock Art of Utah | By Polly Schaafsma
Everything you ever wanted to know about Fremont rock art, including 200-plus high-quality photographs and drawings.
Ancient Peoples of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau | By Steven Simms
A great introduction to the ancient peoples of the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau from the entry of the first Native Americans through the arrival of Europeans.
Utah Guide Books
Moon Four Corners: Including Navajo and Hopi Country, Moab, and Lake Powell | By Kathleen Bryant
This Moon Handbook provides insider advice on how to make the most of a trip to the the Four Corners Region, including mountain biking on Slickrock Trail near Moab, driving through breathtaking Monument Valley, and rafting down the Colorado River.
The Southwest Inside Out: An Illustrated Guide to the Land and its History | By Thomas Wiewandt and Maureen Wilks
An excellent illustrated guide to the Southwest for anyone with an interest in the geology, minerals, land formations and geography of the region.
A Traveler’s Guide to the Geology of the Colorado Plateau | By Donald L. Baars
An extensive survey of the geology of the Four Corners region.
Other Recommended Reads
The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons | By John Wesley Powell
Originally published in 1875, this is the classic tale of adventure and exploration of the rivers and canyonlands of the Colorado Plateau.
First Through Grand Canyon | By Michael Ghiglieri
For yet another take on the John Wesley Powell expedition of 1869, Ghiglieri turns to the secret journals and letters of the crew who explored the rivers of the Colorado Plateau alongside Powell. In this evocative read he pieces together a more complete picture of what really happened on that historic first descent.
Great & Peculiar Beauty: A Utah Reader | By Thomas Lyon and Terry Tempest Williams
A diverse collection of Utah-inspired writing from natives and visitors, including Mark Strand, Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner.
The Monkey Wrench Gang | By Edward Abbey
Written by one of the great environmentalists of our time, this entertaining and thought-provoking novel follows a group of misfit activists who work to destroy the “system” that’s trying to pollute and develop their sacred American Southwest for profit.
The Redrock Chronicles: Saving Wild Utah | By T.H. Watkins
A natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, specifically southern Utah, illustrated with photographs.
Four Corners: History, Land, and People of the Desert Southwest | By Kenneth Brown
An excellent account of the geology, ecology, history and culture of the high plains of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
Basin and Range | By John McPhee
The always fascinating McPhee explores how plate tectonics shaped the landscape from Utah to California.
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water | By Marc Reisner
A definitive history of water development in the American desert – and a now-classic chronicle of wrong-headed policies and misadventures controlling the great rivers of the West.