From engaging stories of ancient cultures and modern day exploration to comprehensive field guides, this essential reading list dives deep into the history and natural environment of southeastern Utah and the San Juan River. If you’re preparing for a San Juan River rafting trip, you’ll surely want to put a few of these books on your must-read list.
San Juan River Reading
An ecological overview of the Lower San Juan. It’s an engaging discussion of the river and its future prospects from settlement by the Anasazi and Navajo peoples through European exploration, Mormon expansion, scientific research, industrial projects and modern government policies.
A naturalist travels through the desert Southwest of her youth, reflecting on native peoples, landscape and ecology. It includes sections on the San Juan River.
The Ancient People & Archaeological History of the Southwest
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.
Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah | By Steven Simms
Through incredible photographs and engaging writing, learn to understand the daily lives and complex society of these ancient people.
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.
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.
Archaeology of the Southwest | By Linda Cordell and Maxine McBrinn
A comprehensive overview for anyone interested in Southwest archaeology.
When Is a Kiva?: And Other Questions About Southwestern Archaeology | By Watson Smith
Through various essays, archaeologist Watson Smith dives into Anasazi and Hopi prehistory.
An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology | By Alfred Vincent Kidder
A classic introduction to Pueblo archaeology with firsthand accounts from early archaeologists.
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.
The Deserts of the Southwest: A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide | By Lane & Peggy Larson
A comprehensive introduction to the ecology of our North American deserts. With line drawings and chapters on desert travel, including what to avoid, how to stay healthy and first aid.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Southwestern States: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah | By Peter Alden
A compact photo guide to the wildflowers, trees, mosses, butterflies, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals of the Southwest.
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.
Utah Guide Books
Moon Utah | By W. C. McRae and Judy Jewell
This informative book from Moon Travel Guides features detailed maps, strategic itineraries, insider travel tips and activity ideas, as well as background on the culture, history and wildlife of Utah.
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.
Roadside Geology of Utah | By Felicie Williams, Lucy Chronic and Halka Chronic
Designed for the roadside traveler, this book explains in detail the geologic history of Utah as seen through the window.
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.
Other Recommended Reads
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.