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Blue EyesBest of the Year Reviews

Best of Year: 2020

 

 

 

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Best Book Lists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUIDE TO OUTDOOR LITERATURE HOME PAGE

 

 

BEST OF THE YEAR AWARDS

 

NEW BOOKS (All topics)

 

NEW BOOKS (Hunting & Fishing)

 

 

Best of the Year Books of 2020 include the

Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards . . .

 

Book of EelsThe Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World.  By Patrik Svensson.  Ecco / HarperCollins, New York.  ISBN 9780062968814

 

Patrik Svensson's Book of Eels is natural history writing at its finest.  It only takes a few pages, and Svensson draws you in, delivering a graceful and moving account of these elusive and mysterious creatures.  Ever so gradually, he pieces together humankind's quest for knowledge about eels, a quest that, interestingly enough, starts with Aristotle.  Parts are also played by Sigmund Freud and Rachel Carson, but the star of the show is Johannes Schmidt who spends much of his life searching the world's oceans to find where European eels are birthed.  Part marine biology, part historical drama, and part personal narrative, The Book of Eels is an extraordinary achievement.

 

 
 History / Biography  

World Beneath Their FeetThe World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering Madness and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas.  By Scott Ellsworth.  Little, Brown and Company, New York.  ISBN 9780316434867

 

Scott Ellsworth combines solid research, and a touch of panache, in this work on mountaineering history from 1930 to 1953.  What separates this book from many other climbing histories is that Ellsworth approaches mountaineering from a cultural and political perspective.  The British, aware that the days of their great empire were numbered, sought to bolster national pride by attempting to climb the world's highest peaks.  So, too, are the newly empowered Nazis, but they also look to the Himalayas as a proving ground for the superiority of the Aryan master race.  And the Americans?  They were a motley lot of Ivy League college buddies, itching to be a player in this high stakes game.  There's plenty to sink your teeth into, and plenty of new insights, in this absorbing and eminently readable book.

 

Labyrinth of IceLabyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition. By Buddy Levy.  St. Martin's Press, New York.  ISBN 9781250182197

 

The Greely Expedition is perhaps one of the most harrowing expeditions in polar history.  A. W. Greely, an American army lieutenant, set out to reach the farthest north yet achieved by any human.  He was successful in that effort, but it is the return journey for which the expedition is known.  A resupply ship is blocked by ice from reaching the party, and what follows is Greely and his men's desperate attempt to escape from the frozen north.  Based on exhaustive research, this is an epic tale told with finesse and intelligence.

 
 Outdoor Literature

Dragons in the SnowDragons in the Snow:  Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains.  By Edward Power.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512960

 

Imagine that you're on a backcountry snowboard outing.  The snow is epic:  deep, powdery and, oh, so luring.  Suddenly, there is an avalanche and you are caught in a moving mass of snow hurtling down a mountainside.  Told in a captivating, novelistic style, Edward Power's lead story in Dragons in the Snow places you at the scene of an accident.  An accurate re-telling of the event, he effectively uses it to introduce a selection of backcountry guides and avalanche professionals who must deal with the vagaries of snow.  It's an exceptionally well done book, one that holds your interest while at the same time, offering important, and possibly life saving, lessons on avalanche safety.

 
 Classic

The Only KayakThe Only Kayak:  A Journey Into the Heart of Alaska. By Kim Heacox.  Lyons Press, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493049400

 

In this elegant and moving memoir, Kim Heacox writes of his years living and working in Glacier Bay.  It is about paddling trips with friends, intimate encounters with wildlife, his work as a ranger, and excursions with an engaging young woman who, as it happens, becomes his life partner.  Through it all, he wrestles with the questions that plague all conscientious outdoor users: the never ceasing encroachment of untrammeled spaces, our relationship with the wild, and our relationship with one another.  He often draws from thinkers, explorers, philosophers, and environmental writers of the past.  This is a thoughtful and penetrating work of outdoor literature that clearly ranks among Alaska's finest.



 Design & Artistic Merit

Beaty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.  By Rob Badger and Nita Winter.  WinterBadger Press and California Native Plant Society, Sausalito and Sacramento, CA.  ISBN 9781733104401

 

The first part of this large format book is entitled "The gift of Beauty."  It's referring to wildflowers, of course, but it is also an apt characterization of the book itself.  It is truly a gift, a gift of artistic beauty that would grace anyone's home.  From wide view photographs of vast fields of color to intricate close-ups of individual flower species, it is a book of wonder and a celebratory feast for the eyes.  Complementing the photographic artistry are 18 essays which help deliver a message of what has been—and will be—lost in the natural world if global warming continues unchecked.


 Children's Category

Nature Play WorkshopNature Play Workshop for Families: A Guide to 40+ Outdoor Learning Experiences in All Seasons.  By Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan.  Quarry Books, Beverly, MA.  ISBN 9781631598685

 

With years of experience in teaching children, Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan couldn't have formed a better partnership for this book.  While children will enjoy the bright, colorful photos and graphics, it's primarily oriented to adults: parents, youth leaders and teachers.  Using an extraordinary practical approach, the co-authors provide innovative ways to entice children away from the indoors and into the outdoors.  Their secret?  Play.  Children love to play, and if you get them playing outdoors, they naturally enjoy being there.  Intended for children in the 8 to 12 year range, it's a joy to use and is packed full of ideas to combine play and learning in the outdoors.

 
 Nature and the Environment

Secrets of SnakesSecrets of Snakes: The Science Beyond the Myths.  By David A. Steen.  Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX.  ISBN 9781623497972

 

What is impressive about this excellent primer on snakes is its clever organization.  It is divided up into a series of statements and/or questions, each lending themselves to short chapters:  Does the head of a snake reveal danger?  Are baby snakes more dangerous than adults?  Can you tell the age of a rattlesnake by its tail?  With the reader's interest thus engaged, author David Steen uses the opportunity to correct falsehoods and misconceptions about snakes, and then very effectively follows up by imparting information about snake ecology and biology.  It is enlightening without being overly academic, perfect for anyone who wants to learn about the fascinating world of snakes.

 

Great Mountain TrailsAmerica's Great Mountain Trails:  100 Highcountry Hikes of a Lifetime.  By Tim Palmer.  Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York.  ISBN 9780847865420.

 

You can always rely on Tim Palmer for keen observation and accurate descriptive writing.  In this new, large format book, he details 100 noteworthy trails in the United States, covering the mountainous areas of the East and West, along with Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  It's two books rolled into one.  It's a guidebook, yes, with information and practical hints on hiking the trails, but it's also an art portfolio, exhibiting Palmer's outstanding outdoor photography.

 
 Nature Guidebooks

Foraging South CaliforniaForaging Southern California: 118 Nutritious, Tasty and Abundant Foods.  By Douglas Kent.  Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN.  ISBN 9781591939153

 

Foraging Southern California is a terrific little guidebook on nature's edible goodies which easily slips into a pocket of your pack.  Foraging expert, Douglas Kent takes care of the important stuff first.  In the opening chapter, he pictures and describes the plants you want to stay away from:  those that are toxic or poisonous.  From there it is smooth sailing, setting the stage for a great day of foraging.   Each of the edibles include a large color photograph and descriptive information on habitat, leaves, flowers, harvest season and comparable species.

 
 Instructional

Peak NutritionPeak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure.  By Maria Hines and Mercedes Pollmeier.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512052

 

"Wow" is the best way to summarize the judges' reaction to this exquisitely designed and illustrated book on outdoor nutrition.  What really notches up the wow factor is the great writing team of Mercedes Pollmeier and Maria Hines.  Pollmeier is a nutrition expert and a certified strength and conditioning coach.  She trains athletes from around the world.  Hines is a climber and a chef.  Food & Wine magazine included her in their list of “Best New Chefs” and the New York Times has featured her organic restaurant.  Combining their diverse talents, they add a little pazazz to trail cooking, helping you create meals that are both delicious and nutritious.  Try one of the recipes in this book and you, too, will be saying wow.  The best thing?  You'll never ever have to resort to a tasteless freeze dried dinner again.

 

Crack ClimbingCrack Climbing: The Definitive Guide. By Pete Whittaker.  Illustrations by Alex Poyzer.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512151.

 

If there's ever been a definitive guide devoted to one segment of climbing technique, this is exhibit number one.  Pete Whittaker is a world class crack climber and he leaves no stone unturned in this excellent instructional book.  What is crack climbing?  It is that aspect of the sport whereby you jam fingers, hands, or feet into cracks to move upward on a rock face.  Whittaker has organized the book by width of crack (finger, hand, offwidth, chimney).  Then, with excellent illustrations by Alex Poyzer, he describes a myriad of ways a climber can position fingers, hands, feet and body to tackle any crack that comes your way.


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 Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks

Fly Fishing AustinFly Fishing Austin and Central Texas.  By Aaron Reed.  Imbrifex Books, Las Vegas.  ISBN 9781945501241.

 

All you have to do is to read the introductory chapters to realize that Aaron Reed is the sort of guy who you wouldn't mind having as a fishing pal.  Fortunately, for most of us, his fly fishing guide allows you to do just that.  You can fish the same waters, grab a bite at a favorite eatery, and enjoy the same music.  Music?  Yessiree.  At the end of each chapter, Reed includes suggested music that you might enjoy on your fishing excursion.  This is Austin, Texas after all.  He covers more than 100 legal fishing accesses, most within 50 miles of Austin and others within a 90 mile radius.  Besides being a first rate writer, he's a darn good photographer, and his color photographs are the perfect supplement to this well designed and thoroughly useful guide.

 

Hiking LassenHiking Lassen Volcanic National Park: A Guide to the Park's Greatest Hiking Adventures.  By Tracy Salcedo.  Falcon Guides, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493044047

 

It's always a pleasure to come across a guidebook writer who really knows her stuff—and Tracy Salcedo is certainly that and more.  She has been hiking the trails of Lassen for over 20 years, and her many days on those trails plainly show as she accurately guides you on the 50 trails highlighted in the book.  Everything you need is there: nicely rendered maps, color photos, difficulty ratings, mileage charts, and helpful advice from one who knows.

 

 


 

Best of the Year Books of 2019 include the

Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards . . .

 

Pacific AloneThe Pacific Alone:  The Untold Story of Kayaking's Boldest Voyage.  By Dave Shively.  Falcon, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493026814

 

This is one of those absorbing books that is certain to carry you away on an inner voyage of your own.  It is about an audacious attempt by Ed Gillet to cross the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii, a journey that would take at least two months.  His means of travel?  A kayak.  That's right.  A kayak!   Even solo adventurers crossing the ocean in a row boat  have a place to sleep.  But a kayak?  This is truly a great adventure, and outdoor writer and kayaking aficionado Dave Shively is perfect to tell the story.   Does Gillet make it?  You can find out in this first rate chronicle of the journey.

 

Inner RangesInner Ranges: An Anthology of Mountain Thoughts.  By Geoff Powter. Rocky Mountain Books, Victoria, BC.  ISBN 9781771602877

 

Inner Ranges is a collection of writings, the culmination of a lifetime of puzzling over what it is that motivates climbers and mountain explorers. Geoff Powter comes at it from a unique perspective, that of a practicing clinical psychologist.   Included are his own personal stories, opinion pieces, and insightful profiles of notable climbers.  What adds greatly to the book's appeal is that Powter has added commentary, evaluating his past writings in a new light and adding clarity in the passing of the years. 

 

Salt PathThe Salt Path.  By Raynor Winn.  Penguin Books, New York.  ISBN 9780143134114

 

Lyrical, poignant, and full of heart, Raynor Winn's Salt Path is outdoor writing — or simply any kind of writing — at its very best.  A true story, Raynor and her husband lose their small farm in Wales to creditors and find themselves nearly penniless, without even a place to live.  Then to add to their already overwhelming burdens, her husband of thirty-two years is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With little time left, they decide to embark on a 630-mile trek on a coastal hiking trail in southwest England . . . and then everything changes.  This is a story of  hope, love, and the life-affirming power of living simply in the outdoors.

 

 
 2019 History / Biography  

Grinnell by John TaliaferroGrinnell: America's Environmental Pioneer and his Restless Drive to Save the West.  By John Taliaferro.  Liveright Publishing,
New York.  ISBN 9781631490132

 

John Taliaferro is the author of several other highly acclaimed biographies, and his skill as a writer is on full display in this consummate work on George Bird Grinnell.  Of all of the giants of the conservation movement, Grinnell is probably the least recognized.  In the late 1800s Grinnell, a zoologist and anthropologist by training, came to realize that the United States was undergoing an alarming decline of birds and other wildlife.  As a consequence, he began writing and editing countless articles arguing for sane conservation policies.  Putting his words into action, he spearheaded the formation of the first Audubon Society, and  along with Theodore Roosevelt, was a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club, organized for the protection of wildlife habitat.  Based on exhaustive research, Taliaferro synthesizes a vivid portrait of Grinnell, clearly establishing his place in the pantheon of American conservationists.

 

Drawn to the DeepDrawn to the Deep: The Remarkable Underwater Explorations of Wes Skiles.  By Julie Hauserman.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville.  ISBN 9780813056982

 

In this well-told biography, the life of underwater  pioneer Wes Skiles comes alive.  Wes Skiles was a legendary scuba diver known for his exploratory cave dives and his innovative underwater photography work.  Skiles explored where others had never been before, all the while inventing, innovating, and pushing the limits of what was possible.  His work appeared in national magazines and in over one hundred documentary films. Readable and engrossing, Julie Hauserman's book is an exploration of the man and the hauntingly beautiful underworld that he inhabited. 

 
 2019 Nature and the Environment

River of RedemptionRiver of Redemption:  Almanac of Life on the Anacostia.  By Krista Schlyer. Texas A&M University Press.  College Station, TX.  ISBN 9781623496920

 

The Anacostia River is not a long river.  From its watershed in Maryland, it flows only nine miles before joining the Potomac River in Washington DC.  Although short, it is long on cultural history, and even longer in the lessons to be learned from its checkered environmental past.  River of Redemption is Krista Schlyer's moving, personal story of the river, a story she spent seven years photographing and even longer in exploring its natural world.  It's a river which has been exploited and abused; yet despite all that it has suffered, Schlyer still finds isolated havens of beauty.  While those havens are few to be found, Schlyer expresses hope that through continued efforts of restoration, the river may one day regain its former glory as a healthy, thriving ecosystem.

 
 2019 Natural History Literature

UnderlandUnderland: A Deep Time Journey.  By Robert Macfarlane.  W. W. Norton, New York.  ISBN 9780393242140

 

In this extraordinary book, Robert Macfarlane guides us on a journey downward through layers of soil where roots anchor trees and plants, and down further through bedrock and into caves where thousands of years ago the ancients left their art.  Macfarlane relates one amazing story after another in vivid, soulful language, describing hidden worlds beneath our feet.  Compelling and thought provoking, this is natural history writing at its best.

 

 

Secret Wisdom of NatureThe Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things.  By Peter Wohlleben.  Greystone Books, Vancouver.  ISBN 9781771643887

 

Reading The Secret Wisdom of Nature is like having an informal chat with Peter Wohlleben, ambling along, on a stroll through the woods near his home.  There is an intimacy about this book, a relaxed personal touch about his deliberations on the subject of ecology. Using examples and the results of research from North America, Europe and other locales, he poses a series of questions.  Using simple and understandable language, he answers them, painting the study of ecology with an entirely new palette of colors.

 

This LandThis Land:  How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West.  By Christopher Ketcham.  Viking, New York.  ISBN 9780735220980

 

The 450 million acres of public land in the western United States  are under assault like no other time in history.  Christopher Ketcham who has been reporting on public land issues for over a decade, pulls no punches as he documents how influence peddlers, government policy and mismanagement are causing irreparable damage to these lands.   Often approaching it on a personal level, Ketcham interviews those on the front lines whose lives are thrown into turmoil.  Raw and unrestrained, Ketcham's work goes to the heart of this increasingly virulent national crisis.



 2019 Design & Artistic Merit

Grand Canyon: Between River & RimThe Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim.  Photographs and Text by Pete McBride.  Design by Susi Oberhelman.  Rizzoli International Publications, New York.  ISBN 9780847863044

 

This large format book is more than a collection of beautiful photographs — although, it certainly is that — rather it is a moving, visual story of an amazing 750-mile hike from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other.  Photographer
Pete McBride and fellow companion Kevin Fedarko did it the hard way:  traveling off-trail, searching out weaknesses in the canyon walls: thin, airy ledges, faint wildlife trails, and zigzagging through sweltering boulder fields.  This is a real treat: an inspiring adventure and superb photography all rolled into one colorful and marvelous work of art.


 2019 Children's Category

101 Outdoor Adventures to Have Before You Grow Up.  By Stacy and Jack Tornio.  FalconGuides.  Lanham, MD.  ISBN 9781493041404

 

This wonderful book is full of inspiring things for children to do outdoors.  See an endangered species.  Identify animal tracks.  Go stargazing in the middle of nowhere.  Go on an amazing day hike.  Skip a rock across the water at least 10 times.  Oriented to the 8-12 age group, authors Stacy and Jack Tornio offer five easy steps to accomplish each of the activities covered in the book.  One fun fact about the authors is that Jack Tornio is Stacy's teenage son.   Throughout the book, Jack adds a kid's
perspective, offering tips on making each of the activities more enjoyable.

 

WildheartWildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir.  By Julie Bertagna.  Illustrated by William Goldsmith.  Yosemite Conservancy, El Portal, CA.  ISBN 9781930238947

 

Wildheart is a biography for children about the great outdoorsman and conservationist, John Muir.  The story is told through John's eyes beginning with his boyhood in Scotland and then moving to the wild lands of America.  In 1868, he makes it to California and immediately sets out on a hike across the Central Valley which he finds filled with a carpet of flowers, the colors of a rainbow.  Later, he travels to Alaska to study glaciers, and it is there that he and his dog Stikeen have an unforgettable adventure.   The book is done using a series of pictures and scenes on each page, in comic book style, perfect for keeping a child's interest and for moving the story along.  Age group:  9-12 years old.

 

The Lost ForestHonorable Mention.  The Lost Forest.  By Phyllis Root.  Illustrations by Betsy Bowen. University of Minnesota Press.  Minneapolis. 
ISBN 9780816697960

Many years ago, surveyors in Minnesota made a mistake in their map making and placed a lake in the middle of what was really an old growth forest.  For more than seventy-five years, the mistake stayed on maps, and the ancient timber on the site remained safe from logging.  Along with Betsy Bowen's sumptuous illustrations, author Phyllis Root tells the story of the lost forest and its eventual preservation as one of the last and largest stands of virgin timber in Minnesota. 
Age group: 4-9 years old.

 
 2019 Outdoor Classic

Mammal Tracks & SignMammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species.  By Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland.  Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT. 
ISBN  9780811737746

 

In its relatively short life, Mark Elbroch's guidebook about mammal tracks has become a classic.   It is,
after all, the most comprehensive guide available
on the topic, eminently useable and filled with
hundreds of photos and illustrations.  In addition to visual and textual material on how to recognize tracks, Elbroch includes other clues helpful in making an accurate identification including scat, urine, ground and plant signs.

 
 2019 Instructional

Training for UphillTraining for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers.  By Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kilian Jornet.  Patagonia Books, Ventura, CA.  ISBN 9781938340840

 

If you are a trail runner or competitive ski mountaineer, you can't go wrong with this highly graphic and beautifully designed training manual.  Based on the latest scientific work, the book helps you create your own training plans and work-outs.  Full of helpful suggestions, and authored by noted endurance experts and athletes, this is one of the finest training manuals available, bar none.

 
 2019 Nature Guidebooks

Flower Flies of NEField Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America. By Jeffrey H. Skevington and Michelle M. Locke. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. ISBN 9780691189406

 

First things first: flower flies or hover flies are not bees or wasps. Yes, they are pollinators, and yes, they have similar markings to bees — which serves them well as a form of protection from potential predators — but that's where the similarity ends. They have two wings. Bees and wasps have four. Moreover, flower flies haven't had the sort of guidebook attention that bees have had. Until, that is, the arrival of this book, the first comprehensive guide to flower flies. With plenty of photographs, a smart lay-out, and clear textual material, it does the job and does it well.


Wildflowers of the Atlantic SEWildflowers of the Atlantic Southeast. By Laura Cotterman, Damon Waitt and Alan Weakley. Timber Press, Portland, OR. ISBN 9781604697605

 

If you live in the Southeast, you can't go wrong
with this new and exceptionally well-done guide
to the region's wildflowers. You barely have to
open the book and you know where to start looking to identify a flower that you've found. The entire right hand margin of each page is colored. Match the flower's color to page color and you're in the ballpark. Additionally, the authors have devised a simple key which consists of six steps, each step leading you closer to the flower at hand. It's all there: intelligent design, well-honed descriptions, and crisp color photographs of the 1200 species covered by the book.

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 2019 Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks

Sierra SummitsSierra Summits: A Guide to Fifty Peak Experiences in California's Range of Light.  By Matt Johanson.  Falcon Guides.  Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493036448

 

Sierra Summits takes a different approach than many climbing guidebooks.  In fact, it's not really for climbers.  It's for non-climbers.  No ropes or climbing equipment needed.  No overnight bivouacs on icy ledges required.   All of the fifty summits described in the book can be reached by hiking, and they can be done in a single day.   Areas covered by the book include Tahoe, Central Sierra, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Eastern Sierra.

 

150 Nature Hot Spots in CA 150 Nature Hot Spots in California:  The Best Parks, Conservation Areas and Wild Places.  By Ann Marie Brown.  Firefly Books.  Richmond Hill, ON.  ISBN 9780228101680

 

This beautifully designed and photographed book features some of California's finest natural areas.  Covered in the book are national and state parks, natural reserves, national monuments and other recreation sites.  All of the state is included from the snow-draped slopes of Mt. Shasta in the north to the Joshua tree landscapes of the south.

 

 

 


 

Best of the Year Books of 2018 include the

Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards . . .

 

To the Edges of the EarthTo the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles.  By Edward J. Larson.  William Morrow, New York.  ISBN  9780062564474.

 

In this absorbing book, historian Edward Larson trains his sights on one year:  1909.  It is a momentous year when explorers are on the cusp of attaining some of the great prizes of exploration.  During the year, expeditions are underway to the North and South Poles, as well as to the Himalaya and Karakoram, seeking the so-called third pole, the “altitude pole.”  It is the year in which some of the great figures in exploration make their marks: US Naval Officer, Robert Peary; African American adventurer, Matthew Henson; Italy’s Duke of the Abruzzi; and Britain’s Ernest Shackleton.  Based on exhaustive research – including a journey taken by Larson to the South Pole – this book is an accomplished and exceptional historical work.

 

ElevationsElevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River.  By Max McCoy.  University Press of Kansas,  Lawrence, KS. ISBN  9780700626021

 

When author Max McCoy slips into a kayak and begins to paddle the Arkansas River in Colorado, it is the start of two journeys.  One journey takes him down the river.  The other journey takes him through time.  From the river’s headwaters in Colorado, across Kansas to his ending point near the Oklahoma border, McCoy seeks out the river’s cultural history, past and present.  He stops to visit the site of a Japanese internment camp.  He spends time in a town rocked by labor unrest in 1914, and he climbs to the top of a clock tower to view a massive flood and irrigation dam.  Each stop becomes a story, well told and well researched, each blending into an insightful whole. 


 

 

2018 Outdoor Literature Books . . .

 

Pure LandWinner.  Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives and the Search for Heaven on Earth.  By Annette McGivney.  AUXmedia, Detroit.  ISBN 9780998527888.

 

Havasu Creek.  Its aqua colored waters, quiet pools and breathtaking falls, deep in the Grand Canyon, is one of the most beautiful places in all of the American Southwest.  It’s truly a backpacker’s paradise, and many thousands have made the eight-mile hike into Supai, a small, remote Indian village, to spend time there.  But in 2006, the serenity of Havasu was shattered when a young Japanese woman was murdered by a Native American.  Author Annette McGivney, Backpacker Magazine’s Southwest Editor, investigates the circumstances behind the incident.  What emerges from her investigations is a captivating and an extraordinarily well crafted story, and one which takes a surprise twist as she finds her own life inexorably drawn into the narrative.

 

2018 Natural History Literature Books

 

Naturalist at LargeA Naturalist at Large: The Best Essays of Bernd Heinrich.  By Bernd Heinrich.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.  ISBN  9780544986831.

 

If you haven’t read any of Bernd Heinrich’s essays, this book is an excellent way to become acquainted.  Heinrich is one of the finest nature writers of our time, and he writes in a down-to-earth, easy going style that all can enjoy.  He’s ever curious, always asking questions, and inviting the reader to join in with that curiosity.  In one essay he might be reasoning the purpose of airy, waxy filaments draped over Woolly Aphids.  In another, he is discovering that some insects are not as cold blooded as we originally thought, finding, for example, that the temperature of the White Lined Sphinx Moth is a sizzling 111 degrees F.  In still another, he deliberates about evolution and whether Olympic strength and endurance athletes have reached the physical limits of the human body.  Informative, insightful, always full of surprises, A Naturalist at Large, is Heinrich at his inquisitive best.

 

RisingRising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.  By Elizabeth Rush.  Milkweed Editions.  Minneapolis. ISBN 9781571313676

 

In this penetrating work, Elizabeth Rush addresses the rise of sea level along America’s coastlines.  Traveling to Maine, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Florida, Oregon and California, she interviews those on the front lines of climate change.  She writes as a journalist but makes no pretense that her reporting is dispassionate.  Rather, she feels deeply for the people whose homes and livelihoods are at risk or have already been washed away and moans the irreparable damage to coastal environments.  This, too, is an examination of her own life and the connections between it and her subject:  family, relationships, and the dangers of a young woman on journalistic assignments.  With sophisticated analyses of her observations, Rising is a powerful work about one of the most pressing issues of our time.

 

2018 Design Books

 

Sage Grouse Sage Grouse: Icon of the West.  Photographed by Noppadol Paothong.  Text by Kathy Love.  Design by Stephanie Thurber and Susan Ferber.  Laguna Wilderness Press, Laguna Beach, CA.  ISBN 9780984000739.

 

Nothing beats being in the field watching the sensational mating dance of the sage-grouse.  There is, however, a close second, and that is paging through Noppadol Paothong’s stunning photography of the bird.  Paothong’s artistry as a photographer and his passion as a naturalist is clearly evident in this large format book.  In nearly every photo he has managed to obtain the perfect marriage of subject, angle, light and background.  Moreover, the accompanying written material, with finely tuned captions and insightful text written by Kathy Love, raises the high bar established by Paothong’s splendid photography.  This is truly a superb work of art and prose, and a testament to this enduring icon of the west.


 

2018 Nature and Environment Books

 

Snake and SalamanderThe Snake and the Salamander:  Reptiles and Amphibians from Maine to Virginia.  By Alvin R. Breisch.  Illustrated by Matt Patterson.  John Hopkins University Press.  Baltimore.  ISBN 9781421421575

 

Alvin Breisch’s long time work with reptiles and amphibians is clearly evident in this elegant and resourceful book.  A total of 83 different species are showcased and described in a refreshing, conversational style.  Scattered about the text are delightful nuggets of information.  The Smooth Greensnake, for instance, “is a bit of a picky eater.”  What gives this book the “wow” factor are the 94 paintings by master illustrator Matt Patterson.  Patterson’s painstaking work is near perfection with each subject rendered anatomically correct and beautifully arranged in its natural habitat. 

 

2018 Classic Books

 

NOLS CookeryNOLS Cookery.  Edited by Claudia Pearson.  Illustrated by Mike Clelland.  Stackpole Books, Lanham, MD.  ISBN 9780811719810

 

The “NOLS” in NOLS Cookery stands for National Outdoor Leadership School, a non-profit organization that has been sending groups into wilderness areas for 50 years.  During that time, they’ve learned a thing or two about outdoor recipes.  Now in its seventh edition, this is the classic guide to backcountry cooking.  Introductory chapters cover planning, nutrition, packaging, equipment, and environmental considerations.  Included also, are helpful hints on the use of lightweight backpacking stoves and techniques of cooking over fires.  The bulk of the book, of course, is filled with nutritious and tasty recipes, guaranteed to have been well tested over the years.  

 

2018 Children's Books

 

50 Oregon Hikes for KidsOregon & Washington 50 Hikes With Kids.  By Wendy Gorton.  Timber Press, Portland, OR.  ISBN 9781604698008

 

This lovely and engaging book is designed to be taken along on hikes with children.  Each of the hikes has been carefully evaluated by author Wendy Gorton for their appropriateness for children, primarily in the 3-8 year range.  The hikes by themselves will be exciting for children, but the book is also a learning tool to help stimulate young minds.  There is plenty to see and treasures to be found.  In fact, Gorton has created treasure hunts for each of the hikes in which children try to find the flora and fauna pictured in the book.  Included also are the trail essentials: how to get there, difficulty, hiking time, and . . . oh yes, perhaps most important: restroom availability.

 

Belle's JourneyBelle’s Journey:  An Osprey Takes Flight.  By Rob Bierregaard.  Illustrated by Kate Garchinsky.  Charlesbridge, Watertown, MA.  ISBN 9781580897921.

 

In this book, for the 7 to 10 year age group, children follow the work of a Dr. B., a scientist who studies osprey.  What makes this book so appealing is that it is based on a true story of an osprey named Belle – and it was written by the real Dr. B.  The story is about Belle’s early life on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts where she learns to fly and catch fish on her own.  With the coming of fall, she sets off on an amazing 4,000 mile journey to South America.  Along the way she is chased by a falcon and is even caught in a hurricane.  Delightfully illustrated, entertaining and educational, this book is sure to be a childhood favorite.

 

Kid's Guide to Birds of MinnesotaThe Kid’s Guide to Birds of Minnesota.  By Stan Tekiela.  Illustrations by Elleyna Ruud.  Design by Jonathan Norberg.  Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN.  ISBN 9781591937869.

 

This pocket-sized book is the perfect guide for budding bird watchers.  Bird expert Stan Tekiela has done a dandy job of boiling down bird identification to short and simple sentences that kids from 8 to 12 years old will easily understand.  Each bird is illustrated with a full-page photo.  On the opposite page from the photo, Tekiela provides one-sentence identification clues:  what to look for, where to find them, what they eat, etc.  His final flourish is to end each bird segment with a fun factoid called “Stan’s really cool stuff.”

 

2018 Outdoor Adventure Guides

 

Discovering John Muir TrailDiscovering the John Muir Trail: An Inspirational Guide to  America’s Most Beautiful Hike.  By Damon Corso.  Falcon Press, Guilford, CT  ISBN 9781493031245

 

You get a little something more than a guidebook with this fine and colorful work on the John Muir Trail.  Yes, it is a guidebook.  It includes mileage charts, elevation profiles, sidebars and maps, but it is also a photographic essay.  From front to back, the book is filled with Damon Corso’s tantalizing color photographs.  The narration accompanying the photography is nicely done and adds a personal touch.  From Yosemite Valley through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks to the summit of Mt. Whitney, Corso keeps your interest by describing his experiences on the trail:  waiting out rainstorms, crossing swollen streams, coming across unforgettable campsites, and making friends along the way.

 

 

2018 Nature Guides

 

Butterflies of the Pacific NWButterflies of the Pacific Northwest.  By Robert Michael Pyle and Caitlin C. LaBar.  Timber Press, Portland, OR.  ISBN 9781604696936.

 

In this outstanding guide, over 200 different butterflies found in the Pacific Northwest are pictured and described.  All the small details which make a topnotch guide are present:  hardy paper cover, color-coded layout, range maps, comparison plates, crisp color photography and clear and understandable text.  It’s the perfect guide for Northwest butterfly enthusiasts young and old.

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2018 Instructional Books

 

Ultimate Whitewater GuideThe Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Rafting and River Camping.  By Molly Absolon.  Falcon Press, Guilford, CT  ISBN 9781493032334.

 

Author Molly Absolon’s intent for this book was to provide a helpful instructional guide for folks just getting into whitewater rafting.  With a solid overview of the sport, and accurate, up-to-date information, she accomplished that goal quite handily.  All the essential elements of multi-day whitewater trips are covered, all nicely packaged in an attractive, full color guide.

 

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Best of the Year Books of 2017 include the

Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards . . .

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Fly Rod of Your OwnA Fly Rod of Your Own.  By John Gierach.  Simon and Schuster, New York. 
ISBN 9781451618341

 

There’s no better way to bring back memories of your own fishing trips than to read of some by John Gierach.  He has a warm, inviting quality to his writing that makes him such a pleasure to read.  In honoring this book, the judges also wanted to recognize Gierach’s body of work which now totals more than 20 previous books.  His themes are simple: a favorite stream near home, a missed cast just when everything is perfect, a culinary misadventure on a trip.  With a wave of his writer’s wand, simple stories become utterly absorbing, and you find yourself captured by his magic, reading well into the night.


On TrailsOn Trails: An Exploration.  By Robert Moor.  Simon and Schuster, New York. 
ISBN 9781476739236

 

Author Robert Moor has a thing with trails.  It’s a fascination of sorts that began on a five-month, 2,200-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Those miles and miles of trail passing beneath his feet gave him plenty of time to think, and upon finishing the hike Moor set off on another journey, this one of the intellectual kind, researching the concept of trails.  His investigations quickly move him beyond the realm of hiking to the use of trails by insects, mammals and ancient humans.  Through it all, Moor’s observations on trails are fresh, thought provoking, erudite, and full of delightful surprises.

 

No BarriersNo Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon.  By Erik Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy.  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.  New York.  ISBN 9781250088789

 

Imagine paddling a kayak into the biggest rapid in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.  The sound is deafening.  Mammoth waves toss your kayak about like it’s a toy.  Then imagine paddling into those waves completely blind, not knowing when the next wave is coming or from where.  Born with a rare eye disease which left him blind at the age of 13, Erik Weihenmayer takes on the rapids of the Colorado—and other adventures—in this stirring and inspiring book.  It may be a cliché, but not for Weihenmayer.  He turns the notion of impossible upside down and reveals that all is possible.

 

 

2017 History/Biography Books . . .

 

Art of Freedom Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka.  By Bernadette McDonald.  Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC. 
ISBN  9781771602129

 

In this masterpiece of a biography, Bernadette McDonald chronicles the life of Voytek Kurtyka who pushed the boundaries of mountaineering to its very limits.  He grew up in Poland and lived during a time of upheaval:  of communist domination and its eventual downfall.  Kurtyka is a reflection of those turbulent times, buying and selling on the black market to make a living, and scheming ways to outwit party bureaucrats to undertake climbing expeditions.  Known for his bold and lightning-fast ascents of big, unclimbed walls in the Himalaya, Kurtyka is a thoughtful and private individual and has largely shunned the limelight.  Fortunately, McDonald was able to conduct interviews with Kurtyka as well as undertake exhaustive research.  The result of her efforts is a work of outstanding artistry and a powerful and moving portrait of Kurtyka’s life. 

 

2017 Natural History Literature Books

 

TidesTides:  The Science and Spirit of the Ocean.  By Jonathan White.  Trinity University Press, San Antonio.  ISBN  9781595348050

 

The regular ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide is not easily explained—unless it is Jonathan White who’s doing the explaining.  In fact, White makes the science of tides an adventure. He takes you along as he travels the globe, seeking out the unusual and dangerous.  In Alaska’s Kalinin Bay, he struggles to save his 65-foot wooden schooner which the tides have left lying on its side in the mud.  With an Inuit hunter in northern Canada, he squeezes through a small hole into a cavity under the sea ice to gather mussels, nervously counting the minutes as the cavity begins filling with the incoming tide.  And in China, he sprints to high ground to avoid a 25-foot tidal bore barreling up a river.  White does what an excellent writer can do, lure you into an unfamiliar world, take you on adventures, change you with intriguing images and ideas.

 

Monarchs and MilkweedMonarchs and Milkweed.  By Anurag Agrawal.  Princeton University Press, Princeton.  ISBN 9780691166353

 

Who can’t admit being captivated by the monarch?  We are attracted by its beauty, of course, and by its amazing migration that can exceed 3,000 miles.  But there is something else that makes the monarch fascinating, and that is its perilous relationship with its main food source, the milkweed.  As it turns out, milkweed is toxic, and while monarchs have adapted to its toxicity, the plant is still able to marshall its defenses, killing off monarch larvae by various means.  In this colorfully illustrated work, Agrawal covers the scientific work behind this combative relationship, among which includes some of his own pioneering studies.  Monarchs and Milkweed is not only about a butterfly, but it also gives us a peek into the mind of an inventive scientist, one who clearly admires his subject and who guides us to a better understanding of this most remarkable creature.

 

Pipestone WolvesThe Pipestone Wolves:  The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family.  By Günther Bloch.  Photography by John E. Marriott.  Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC.  ISBN  9781771601603

 

Some 20 years ago, a new wolf family moved into the Bow Valley of Banff National Park and ended up dominating the area for the next five years.  This book is about the investigations of two dedicated field researchers into that wolf family, and thanks to their efforts we know a great deal more about the dynamics of wolf packs and wolf families.  Later chapters deal with the eventual collapse of the Pipestone wolves and how human activity contributed to it.  Researcher and writer, Günther Bloch pulls no punches when he discusses the management of wolves and other wildlife in Banff.  It is the old dilemma of how to maintain a healthy environment for animals in the face of a growing human population.  It is hoped that, at the least, key aspects of his research will lead to management improvements.


 

Classic Books

 

KingBird HighwayKingbird Highway:  The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder.  By Kenn Kaufman. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.  ISBN 9780618709403

 

In January of 1972, a month shy of his 18th birthday, Kenn Kaufman left his home in Kansas and hitched a ride to Texas.  He was a high school dropout with little money and few prospects for the future.  Nevertheless, driven and single-minded, Kaufman was embarking on a quest, a quest far removed from that of a typical 18-year old.  He was out to establish the record for the most birds identified in the US in one year.  This is the story of that year-long quest:  of living on pennies a day, of hitch hiking from one end of the country to the other, and of sleeping under bridges—and yet slowly, he filled his lists with birds.  And what of his uncertain future?  He didn’t do too badly.  Have you heard of the Kaufman guides, that popular series of bird, mammal and insect guides which have sold in the thousands?  Oh yes, that’s the same Kaufman.

 

 

2017 Design Books

 

Wild EncountersWild Encounters: Iconic Photographs of the World’s Vanishing Animals and Cultures.   Photography and Commentary by David Yarrow.  Rizzoli, New York.  ISBN 9780847858323

 

David Yarrow is one of the virtuosos of black and white wildlife photography.  His art has graced galleries from Europe to North America.  In this large format, portfolio-sized book, you’ll be treated to some of his finest work.  Arranged by the latitude of locale, his dramatic monochromatic photographs of wild and endangered animals appear to leap from the page.  Some of the most powerful images are tightly framed close-ups in which almost every hair of the animal can be seen.  The emphasis of the book is on wildlife, but he also features people who live in close proximity with the creatures he photographs, and included among those are stunning portrayals of the Inuit in northern Canada and the stately Dinka people of the South Sudan.  You won’t be disappointed.  This is truly the work of an artist at the height of his powers.

 

2017 Children's Books

Pup the Sea OtterPup the Sea Otter.  By Jonathan London.  Illustrated by Sean London.  WestWinds Press/Graphic Arts Books, Portland. 
ISBN 978194332887

 

This delightful book, the work of a father and son team, is about a ball of fur called Pup.  Jonathan London tells the story of a newly born sea otter, while his son Sean, a gifted illustrator, provides color and form to the story with his tender and eye-catching paintings.   Pup grows and learns how to forage for food, all under the watchful eye of his mom.  Children will love the dialog:  slurp, slurp, slurp; munch, crunch, munch.  There’s even some danger and excitement when a shark appears, but it all turns out fine when—you guessed it—mom comes to the rescue.  For ages 4-8.

 

TreecologyTreecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests.  By Monica Russo.  Photographs by Kevin Byron.  Chicago Review Press, Chicago.  ISBN 9871613733967 

This wonderful learning book about trees is for budding naturalists age seven and older.  Chapters typically start with a discussion of some aspect of tree biology which, in turn, is followed by one or more hands-on activities related to the discussion.  The activities are fun and designed to help children develop their own writing, drawing and literacy skills.  It is colorful, nicely designed, and perfect for a learning adventure in a nearby woods.

2017 Instructional Books

 

Long TrailsBackpacker Long Trails:  Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike.  By Liz Thomas.  Falcon Guides, Lanham, MD.  ISBN 9871493028726

 

Every so often a book comes along, finds broad acceptance, and becomes the bible of a sport.  This book is destined to rise to that position among long-trail hiking guides.  Authored by Liz Thomas who has hiked the big three—Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest—this comprehensive work is literally brimming full of practical advice for backpackers planning to spend weeks on the trail.  In addition to Thomas’s fine writing, sidebars written by other experienced hikers offer alternative ideas and strategies.  If you have a hankering to go on a long hike, there’s no question about it.  This is the one book that you’ll want to read before you go.

 

Big Walls, Swift WatersBig Walls, Swift Waters:  Epic Stories from Yosemite Search and Rescue.  By Charles R. “Butch” Farabee.  Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite National Park, CA.  ISBN 9781930238749

 

Big Walls, Swift Waters is a little bit of everything.  It’s a history, a compilation of case studies, and an instructional guide about rescue equipment and techniques.  Well illustrated with photographs from past rescues, author Charles “Butch” Farabee documents many of the classic search and rescues that have occurred in Yosemite National Park.  It’s a fascinating, insider’s view of rescue, and you’ll find yourself rappelling out of helicopters, hanging on granite walls, and plunging into icy waters.

 

Scout's Guide to Wild Edibles

2017 Nature Guides

 

The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles.  By Mike Krebill.  St. Lynn’s Press, Pittsburgh. 
ISBN  9781943366064

 

Sometimes good guidebooks come in small packages.  The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles almost fits in a back pocket, and yet, for its relatively small size, it packs in a lot of information.  Author Mike Krebill knows his wild edibles, and he knows how to make a guidebook fun for young people.  A wild food expert and a Scout leader, he divides the book into two parts:  the first is the identification guide profiling 40 widely found edible wild plants and mushrooms.  The second half consists of recipes and ways of cooking wild foods.  In this last half boys and girls are pictured preparing and cooking plants that they have gathered on their outdoor forays.  It’s oriented to the younger set, of course, but adults just might want to sneak one along on the next outing.  They’ll find it pretty handy too.

 

Butterflies of PennsylvaniaWinner.  Butterflies of Pennsylvania:  A Field Guide.  By James L. Monroe and David M. Wright.  University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. 
ISBN 9780822964551

Butterflies of Pennsylvania is one of those guidebooks that sets out with a purpose and ends up doing it well.  What appealed to the judges is that all of the information on a butterfly species is covered on a single page or a two-page spread.  There’s no need to look elsewhere for maps and other information.  The photos are crisp.  The text is clear, and the maps and charts easy to use.  If you live in Pennsylvania or in surrounding states, this fine guidebook is a must-have.

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2017 Outdoor Adventure Guides

 

Outdoor Adventures Acadia National ParkOutdoor Adventures, Acadia National Park: Your Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking and Paddling.  By Jerry and Marcy Monkman.  Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston. 
ISBN 9781628420579

 

Situated along the rugged coastline of Maine, Acadia National Park is truly a Northeast treasure.  It’s the oldest designated national park area east of the Mississippi River and has a little of everything:  125 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of historic carriage roads, rocky mountains, ponds, islands and dense evergreen forests.  One of the best ways to enjoy it is with this guidebook by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.  The Monkman’s are accomplished Eastern writers and photographers, and in this guide, they have detailed 50 choice hiking, biking and paddling trips.  There’s even a two-sided 20” x 25” full color map which can be removed from the back cover and which shows all of the routes covered in the book.

 

 

 

Best of 2016

 

Son of the Madam of Mustang RanchThe Son of the Madam of Mustang Ranch. By Joe Leonard. 

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

The title of this book certainly piques your interest.  But why would I be reviewing it here?  This is, after all, a review site for outdoor books. 


That’s because it is an outdoor book.  Admittedly, it seems like an unlikely combination: the shadowy world of prostitution and the sunlit realm of the outdoors.  It almost seems to be more suited to the stuff of fiction.  But it is indeed true - and it is one of the most fascinating true stories that I’ve read in a long time. 


The Son of the Madam is the autobiography of Joe Leonard, a pioneering climber, kayaker and backcountry skier. 

 

This is a featured review with accompanying photographs. You'll find the continuation of this review here: The Son of the Madam of Mustang Ranch

 

 

Prophets and Moguls: 100 Years of the Park ServiceProphets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.  By Heather Hansen.  Mountaineers Book, Seattle. ISBN 9781594858888

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

Released in early 2016, Prophets and Moguls coincides with the National Park Service’s 100th birthday – and you couldn’t ask for a better way to celebrate that milestone.  Lively and spirited, the book tells the story of America’s “best idea” from its earliest glimmer to contemporary times. 

 

(“Best idea” may sound familiar.  It was used by Ken Burns’ in the title of his brilliant PBS multi-episode special on the National Park system.  It’s not Burns’ invention, however.  It comes from a quote by the famous Western writer and life-long supporter of the Park Service, Wallace Stegner.) 

 

Author Heather Hansen is clearly an engaging writer, and one of the strong points of the book is the way she has dexterously merged history, politics and personalities which have helped shaped the parks.  Graphically, the book draws you in as much Hansen’s compelling writing.  It is colorful and intelligently designed with frequent sidebars and a wonderful collection of historic photos.  In short, Hansen and the creative staff at Mountaineers Books has created a marvelous homage to the nation’s park system. 

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Kolob TragedyThe Kolob Tragedy:  The Lost Tale of a Canyoneering Calamity.  By Noel de Nevers.  Canyoneering USA, Mt Carmel, UT.  ISBN 9780978961442

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

One word describes this book:  compelling!  And to that add “supremely illuminating.”  The Kolob Tragedy is a case study of a canyoneering accident that occurred in July of 1993.   A youth group led by three adults rappelled into the narrow canyon formed by Kolob Creek in Zion National Park. A short time later, things went terribly bad. More about the book and the tragedy are found in a featured review that we've prepared: Kolob Tragedy

 

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Denali's HowlDenali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak By Andy, Hall. Penguin Group, New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-14-218195-9

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

As the title suggests, "Denali's Howl" chronicles the "Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak". In the summer of 1967, twelve men went up Mount McKinley, but only five came down. This true story is a vivid and gripping book, moving the reader along, showing exactly how this tragedy unfolded.

 

This is a featured review. You'll find the continuation of this review here: Denali

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 

Soul of WildernessSoul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska. By John Baldwin and Linda Bily. Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd., Madeira Park, BC. ISBN 978-1-55017-735-0            

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Reviewed by G. David Parris

(To reach Dave, email him at: Email)

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award.

In this book, the photographs hold the leading roles. That is not to disparage the essays contained within, but the reader will likely find themselves lingering over the images as if they were chionomania pornography. Snowfields, glaciers, cols, cornices, glacial pools, and even some moraines abound in this book. Tiny skiers dot a small corner of vast frozen vistas, footprints blown into the most interesting of ant-trails, and true wilderness that is few and far between in this modern world; that’s what awaits the reader in this tome of sprawling majesty.

 

Staged in western British Columbia, this collection outlines travels through a wilderness that remains almost purely due to its severity, and enjoys the status of being one of the last true wildernesses in the world, let alone North America. The authors were lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to spend extended trip time in this backcountry, and came back reporting the majesties and beauties we can only hope to share ourselves one day. As I read the accounts and looked at the pictures of their camps, I could only hope that someday I will be so fortunate as to visit this beautiful (mostly) frozen piece of the world.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Sixy Meters to AnywhereSixty Meters to Anywhere.  By Brendan Leonard.  The Mountaineers Books, Seattle  ISBN 9781680510409

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

Sixty Meters, as you might imagine, is about climbing.  Yet climbing is a secondary theme.  It’s mostly about one man’s struggle with alcoholism.  Brendan Leonard’s bout with dependency came early in life, in his late teens.  After college he stayed sober but his life seemed muddled and precariously balanced on the edge of a precipice, one misstep away from oblivion.  That all changed when he started climbing.  Leonard was no longer standing on an edge of a precipice, but instead he was climbing them.  The intensely physical and demanding mental act of climbing became his deliverance. 

 

This was another book that caught me by surprise, and in particular the way Leonard expresses himself.  His writing style is engaging and his choice of words have a pleasing cadence to them.  Through it all, even during the low points in his life, he comes across as a warm, caring person that just took a wrong turn early on.  It’s not easy to expose your failings to the world but in Sixty Meters Brendan Leonard does so with bountiful grace. 

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

Walking the NileWalking the Nile.  By LevisonWood.  Atlantic Monthly Press, New York.  ISBN 9780802124494

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

Levison Wood undertakes a journey of epic breath: to walk the Nile from its source to its mouth at the Mediterranean Sea.  The journey takes nine month and covers over 4,000 miles passing through an environmental sea change:  dripping forests, snake infested swamps, and stretches of parched desert where sand temperatures reach over 140 degrees.  Levison tells the story of the journey with great finesse: balancing his narrative with history, culture, current affairs – and, of course, adventure.  This a great read which will keep you captivated way into the night.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Best of 2016: Fishing & Hunting Books

 

Back Seat FishBack Seat with Fish:  A Man’s Adventures in Angling and Romance by Henry Hughes.  Skyhorse Publishing, New York.  ISBN 9781510703636

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award

First off, a warning which, undoubtedly will make the book more appealing—or less—depending upon your perspective.  In movie lingo, Back Seat with Fish would be rated “R” (can contain scenes including strong language, violence, nudity, sex and drugs).  Indeed, there is some drug use, plenty of drinking, occasional nudity, and a fair amount of sex.  Did I say drinking?  Yes, lots of that. 

 

And did I say sex?  Oh yes.  Plentiful sex, but before you get the wrong idea, the book's steamy scenes are portrayed in a tactful and ginger manner.  Well, mostly ginger.

 

The writing?  Holy cow.  Can Henry Hughes write!  Among our “Best of the Year” choices, Back Seat with Fish is among the most literate.  It really is about fishing and there's plenty there for fishers to keep the pages turning. More about the book is found in a featured review that we've prepared: Back Seat Fish

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Hunting, Butchering & Cooking Wild GameThe Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game (Volume 1: Big Game) By Steven Rinella. Spiegel & Grau, New York, NY.
ISBN 978-0-8129-9406-3            

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Reviewed by G. David Parris

(To reach Dave, email him at: Email)

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award.

Steven Rinella is probably best known for his television show, “Meateater”, and perhaps another television series, “The Wild Within”.  His television work is certainly remarkable in the huge swath of hunting, fishing, and general outdoor programming available today.  Many who have seen his work say, over and over, “He’s the real deal.” 

 

We have much more about this book in a featured review: Hunting, Butchering

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

Hunting, Butcher & Cooking Game (Small Game)The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game (Volume 2: Small Game and Fowl). By Steven Rinella. Spiegel & Grau, New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-8129-8705-8            

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Reviewed by G. David Parris

(To reach Dave, email him at: Email)

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2016 Award.

This second volume from Steven Rinella is equally as valuable as the first. Besides being a must-have companion piece for the first volume, it examines too many aspects of small game hunting than I can describe here. From weapons and gear to methods and techniques, it’s every bit as informative as the first volume is. Using the same template as the first, this second volume is well-organized and full of clear illustrations and photographs.

 

The first section is “Gear” which is pretty self-explanatory, but full of great tidbits. Then “The Basics”, which covers the general aspects of small game hunting like location, techniques, and tips for success. Third is “Species”, which is basically divided between small mammals and birds. The penultimate section is the shortest, “Butchering”, because this is a very simple process with small game, but Rinella’s provided the sorts of tips that even a long-time hunter can benefit from. Lastly, as in the first volume, is the section detailing why most of us hunt in the first place, “Recipes”. This fifth book from Steven Rinella is consistent with his well-written and passionate style, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to up their game or just be more informed while getting some entertainment in.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 


Best of 2015

 

All Fishermen Are LiarsAll Fishermen Are Liars By John Gierach. Simon & Schuster, NY. ISBN 9781451618310

AwardBest of 2015 Award

John Gierach is surely in the top echelon of outdoor writers, but there is nothing rarefied about his writing. He emerges from his books and articles as an easy going, down-to-earth guy, not much into fancy clothes, who simply loves to fish.

 

It comes, then, as no surprise that his writing style isn't fancy either. He doesn't write at his readers. He writes with his readers.

 

But there's something else, a quality evident just below the surface, that makes Gierach such a pleasure to read, and that's his warmth. Reading his books is like sitting down with a favorite uncle and listening to his stories while a fire crackles and pops in a nearby wood stove. What could be better?

 

All Fisherman are Liars consists 22 stories, ranging far and wide from way up north in Canada to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to his home fishing streams in Colorado. In all of these, his simple but highly effective story telling skills are on full display.

 

Thoreau who once wrote that "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." There's no better proof of that truism in the writings of John Gierach.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Defending Idahos's Natural Heritage

Defending Idaho's Natural Heritage By Ken Robison. Boise, ID. ISBN 9870578140933

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2015 Award

Defending Idaho's Natural Heritage is an impressive and penetrating history of Idaho's conservation movement, and there was no better person to write that history than Ken Robison.

 

Ken Robison is a journalist and for many years served as the editorial editor at Idaho's flagship newspaper, the Idaho Statesman. He was later elected to the Idaho legislature, but he continued reporting and writing on environmental issues, founding a magazine called the Idaho Citizen.

 

He was present on the scene, a keen-eyed observer and reporter, during the most tumultuous — and productive — times in the Idaho conservation movement. 

 

It was during the three decades of the 1960's, 70's and 80's that monumental battles were waged over Idaho's wild lands and rivers. These were David and Goliath battles: small Idaho-based conservation groups and individuals with little or no funds up against business lobbyists and corporate lawyers with unlimited expense accounts. What came from those struggles are such national treasures as the River of No Return Wilderness, the Sawtooth Recreation Area, the Selway-Bitterrroot Wilderness, and Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area. 

 

Robison's book is one of the most important works on the Idaho conservation movement ever to be published, and it will long be a reliable source of historical information.

 

For a more lengthy review, see Defending Idaho's Natural Heritage

 

Defending Idaho can be purchased directly with the author's site: Defending Idaho 

 


Best of 2014

 

Last VoyageurThe Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West by Vince Welch The Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781594857010

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2014 Award

This labor-of-love book is a vivid portrait of a pioneering river explorer and a welcomed addition to outdoor literature.  

 

Vince Welch co-authored the Doing of the Thing, an outstanding biography about another pioneering river runner Buzz Holmstrom which won the National Outdoor Book Award in 1998.

 

After a long period of research, he is back with a new book, this time about Amos Burg.  Entitled The Last Voyager, the book fills in the blanks and has greatly expanded our knowledge of this adventurer extraordinaire. 

 

In a burst of activity over a 20-year period from 1920 to 1940, Burg ran the Columbia, Snake, Green, Colorado, Yukon, Mackenzie, Yellowstone, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers.  Gone for months at a time, he was both consumed and seduced by rivers and never married until very late in life.

 

Burg was determined and ambitious, but he was also refreshingly modest.  “Burg would have been embarrassed to find himself hoisted on a pedestal,” Welch writes. “Nevertheless, he serves as a marker on the river of time, a witness to change who wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to rivers.  He traveled the western waterways in pursuit of beauty, adventure and excitement . . . . His explorations were as much of the landscape as the human heart.”

 

Bravo to Welch for putting an equal amount of heart into this fine biography and giving us front row seat into Amos Burg’s fascinating life. 

 

For a more lengthy review, see The Last Voyageur

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

Adventure InwardAdventure Inward:  A Risk Taker’s Book of Quotes by Jonathan Wunrow, Life is Twisted Press.  ISBN 9780985188146.

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2014 Award

I have several books of quotes on my bookshelf, but with the publication of Jonathan Wunrow’s Adventure Inward, I’ve moved all of the others aside.  This 200-page volume is packed full of quotes by famous writers, poets, climbers, and philosophers.  It also includes quite a few names that you probably won’t recognize and which gives the book a down-to-earth feel, adding to its appeal. 

 

It’s an eclectic collection of quotes, from the ancient words of Li Po and his love of a
mountain . . .

We never grow tired of each other,
the mountain and I

To Edward Abbey’s benediction of the outdoor life . . .

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.  May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

You’ll find plenty of gems.  There are words of inspiration . . .

Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream. Discover.  (Mark Twain)

And the humorous . . .

You have to stay in shape.  My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  Now she’s ninety-seven and we don’t know where the hell she is.  (Ellen DeGeneres)

Wunrow divides the book into sixteen sections.  Here are a few:  “Why Play a Risky Game,” “The Beauty of Nature,” “The Moment,” “Find Your Path in Life,” and “Being Open to the Possible.”  Each section is introduced by Wunrow with brief commentary which nicely sums up the collection of quotes that follow.

 

As I read through them, every so often I’d wonder about the author of the quote – particularly those by little known authors.   Did Wunrow overhear it?  Is it re-quoted by someone else?  Did he come across it in a book or an article?  Albeit, it is understandable that Wurow wasn’t able to include source notes.  Books are expensive to print and there’s only so much space, but perhaps we can prevail upon Wunrow to include source information some day on his website.

 

But I’m splitting hairs here. What’s important is that Wunrow has done a commendable job with Adventure Inward — and done us all a favor by putting together this fine assemblage of quotes.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Cabin Creek ChroniclesCabin Creek Chronicle: The History of the Most Remote Ranch in America By G. Wayne Minshall, Streamside Scribe Press. ISBN 9780984949014

Best of the Year Award Best of 2014 Award

The central Idaho wilderness has left an indelible mark on author Wayne Minshall.  It was plainly evident in his first historical work, a fascinating account of the Caswell brothers who through plain hard work and inventiveness eked out a living along Big Creek, a major stream in what is now known as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. 

 

Minshall returns to the Big Creek country in his second book Cabin Creek Chronicles, and once again, recounts the drama of human life far away from civilization.

 

Even in this remote country where only a handful of people live, there are murders, adultery, and greed intermixed with a modicum neighborly goodness.  His book is all focused on one piece of ground — and the succession of changes that occurred there — at the mouth of Cabin Creek, first homesteaded by the Caswells. 

 

Cabin Creek Chronicle is another exceptional work by a fine historical writer.  Put this one on your “must read” list.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

For a more lengthy review, see Cabin Creek Chronicle

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 

Mother of GodMother of God: An Extraordinary Journey Inoto the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon. By Paul Rosolie. HarperCollins, NY. ISBN 9780062259516

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2014 Award

At the age of 18, Paul Rosolie travelled to and spent time in the Amazonian rain forest. Upon returning to his home in New Jersey, he was a changed person.

 

The Amazon drew him back again and again, and each time, he travelled farther and farther away from civilized outposts, lured by a biology gone wild, spellbound by an explosion of life forms unequalled anywhere in the world: trees covered in mosses, lichens and vines, merging into a continuous green canopy above, strange smells and sounds, colorful soaring birds, crawling insects, floating forests, shambling giant anacondas, and prowling jaguars.

 

Rosolie is an adventurer in the full sense of the word, but his book is more than a gripping adventure story; it's also an appeal to halt the deforestation of the Amazon which, left unchecked, may have world-wide climate and ecological repercussions. It's a fine book, written with passion and insightfulness, and offering a true picture of the South American rain forest.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

Flying Off EverestFlying Off Everest: A Journey from Summit to Sea. By Dave Costello. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT. ISBN 9780762789665

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2014 Award

In the spring of 2011, two young Nepalise men embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. It was an improbable adventure: to climb Everest, paraglide from the top and then kayak 400 miles to the ocean. One of the men had no real climbing experience. The other had never been kayaking. But those were minor obstacles to the two strong hearted, starry eyed Nepalis. What was important was the dream.

 

Author Dave Costello brings this remarkable story to life in this well-researched and well-written account. You'll laugh and you'll be amazed what they did with practically no money and using begged and borrowed gear. This is what true adventure is all about.

 

Did they actually accomplish what they set out to do? I won't give it away, but I will give you a hint: flying off of Everest was the easy part.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 

 


 

Best of 2013

Sparks Fly UpwardThe Sparks Fly Upward: A Novel.  By Jon Correll, Inkwater Press, Portland, OR.  ISBN 9781592998883

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2013 Award

Sparks Fly Upward takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the early 1970's.  It’s about Nate Miller as he finishes high school, leaves his rural home, and goes on to college in the big city.  It’s about young romance and homespun decency - and one inevitable, fatal flaw, the consequences of which are foreshadowed on a hunting trip taken by Miller in which he drives himself to near collapse tracking a deer that he has wounded. 

 

What impressed me most about this book is the author's ability to capture dialog.  There's nothing contrived about the characters.  They are well developed, and real enough that you feel like you're in the midst of the hill country, standing with Nate Miller as he interacts with family and friends.  I found it a fine first effort by a new author and quite worthy of having a look.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

Milepost 2013The Milepost: Alaska Travel Planner.  Edited by Kris Valencia, Morris Communications Company, Anchorage, AK.  ISBN 9781892154309.

Year's BestBest of 2013 Honorable Mention

Since 1949, the Milepost has been the bible of North Country travel.  This is the 2013 version.  Like the versions before, it provides mile-by-mile descriptions of all major highways and roads in Alaska and northwestern Canada.  It's indispensible if you drive from the lower 48 to Alaska as well as a useful resource if you travel by plane, ferry or even bicycle.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 


Best of Year: 2012

 

Into the Silence

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2012

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest.  By Wade Davis. Alfred A. Knoff, New York.  ISBN 9780375408892

 

Every so often a book comes along that is so good that you have to slow down, turn the pages languidly, and savor the time you spend with it.  Into the Silence is one of those books.

 

It is the story of George Mallory and his attempts to reach the summit of Everest.  There has been much written about Mallory, but Wade Davis creates a picture of the man like none other. 

 

Mallory was a part of Great Britain’s World War I generation, a generation that was almost entirely wiped out in the trenches of the Western Front.  Yet, from the mud and filth of those trenches arose a cadre of climbers who set their sights on a far more laudable goal:  the airy summits of the Himalayas. 

 

Their quest became the quest of a nation, a way for Britain to cleanse itself and to seek a more hopeful future by putting the horrors of the war behind.  Wade traces Mallory, and the primary players of the Everest quest, through those terrible years until they finally arrive at the foot of the great mountain.

 

But climbing Everest was only half the battle.  Both Nepal and Tibet, wary of foreigners, had closed their borders to outsiders.  Nepal was clearly unreachable.  Thus, early expeditions focused on Tibet, and through sensitive diplomatic maneuvering, obtained permission for expeditions in 1921, 1922 and 1924. 

 

On the first expedition in1921, very little time was spent climbing.  Almost all of their energies went into finding a way to the base of the mountain, and once reached, locating a possible route to the top.

 

By 1924, however, climbers had done all that and had pioneered a route which they believe could lead them to success.  It was late in the 1924 expedition, with the summit still unattained, that Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine positioned themselves for one final attempt.  An observer lower on the mountain watched them ascend and then disappear into the mists of the upper mountain . . . disappearing forever into the silence.

 

Don’t miss out on this one.  Into the Silence is outstanding on all counts:  a richly told, sweeping historical narrative.  But take your time.  Read it slowly and savor every minute.

 

More Information or Purchase

 

Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2012

Canyons and Ice: the Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith.  By Kaylene Johnson, Ember Press, Eagle River, AK.  ISBN 9781467509343

 

There is no doubt in my mind.  Alaskan Dick Griffith is the most hardened and experienced wilderness traveler of our age.  Canyons and Ice is his story.

 

Griffith has walked and skied more than 6,000 miles across Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.  Think about that.  It's just under 3,000 miles across the entire U.S. from Albany, New York to San  Francisco.  Dick Griffith did that distance twice over - twice over!  He had no roads to follow, no trails to guide his way -  persevering, alone, through wild, remote country and bitter cold temperatures. 

 

That's not all.  Griffith was among the early river runners of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  He was the first to run the formidable Lava Falls in an inflatable raft.  Along with his wife, he traversed the length of Copper Canyon in Mexico.

 

Canyons and Ice is Dick Griffith's story - and it's one story well worth reading.

 

For a more lengthy review, see Canyons and Ice

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 

Big Water, Little Boats

Best of the Year AwardBest of 2012

Big Water, Little Boats.  By Tom Martin, Vishnu Temple Press, Flagstaff, AZ.  ISBN 9780979505560

 

In this elegantly designed book, Tom Martin chroncles the adventures of the pioneers of wooden dories on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.   Martin focuses on Moulty Fulmer and Fulmer's innovative and ground breaking dory that he constructed named the "Gem." 

 

The river was truly wild then before the advent of the Glen Canyon Dam, and in one chapter, Martin tells the story of a 1957 trip when the Colorado was running at an amazing 126,000 cubic feet per second.  (The average flow on the Colorado River these days is 15,000 cubic feet per second.)

 

His descriptions of 1950's river trips are a joy to read and revealing, in many ways, of the dynamics of egos and personalities when a group of people live closely together and face the challenges of a wilderness river. 

 

At the conclusion of the book, Martin re-constructs a replica of Fulmer's "Gem" and with it attempts a run down the canyon.  It turns out to be the perfect finishing touch to this fine, new historical text, certain a find a place among exceptional works about the river runners of the Grand Canyon.

 

For a more complete review, see Big Water, Little Boats

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Walking the Amazon

Year's BestHonorable Mention: Best of 2012

Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time.  By Ed Stafford, Penguin Group, New York.  ISBN 9780452298262

 

Tangled jungles, sweltering humidity, fetid swamps, bitting ants, lethal snakes, and a beaucratic maze of governmental and native permits, author Ed Stafford lived and survived a nightmare.   He set out with a friend at the Pacific Ocean in Peru and together they crossed the Andes, reaching the real starting point of the journey: the source of the Amazon.  

 

Somewhere afterwards, his friend bows out and others join him from time to time, but finally, he ends up with forestry worker "Cho" Rivera who, committed as he is, walks all but four months of the twenty-eight month epic.

 

There's nothing fancy about Stafford's writing.   It's a plainly told narrative, but I guarentee that once you start the book, you won't be able to put it down - even if you're like me and don't have a particular affinity for jungles.   He re-creates the journey: the day-to-day grind, the dark and wet, steamy forest, and the internal debate going on his mind which leads him chillingly close to madness.

 

The Amazon is not all tangled jungle.  We learn that towns and roads have increasingly encroached on this last outpost of rain forest wilderness, and where they lie close to the river, he follows roads and forest trails.  At night, when near outposts of civilization, he stays with families, or recovers in hotels in small and large cities.   Frequently, he is re-stocked with food and supplies.  He keeps admirers informed of his progress with regular blog reports. 

 

But, he is never lured away from his goal, and along with his trusty and grounded companion Cho, he heads back again and again for days and weeks at a time in the dark Amazon forest.

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

 

Wilderness Brothers

Best of the Year - Honorable Mention

 

Wilderness Brothers: Prospecting, Horse Packing & Homesteading on the Western Frontier.  By G. Wayne Minshall.  Steamside Scribe Press, Inkom, ID.  ISBN 9780984949007

Year's BestHonorable Mention: Best of 2012

The book centers on the diaries of Luman Caswell who along with his brother in the 1800's, take a 2,500-mile journey by buckboard wagon and horseback, eventually settling along Big Creek deep in the mountainous wilderness of central Idaho.  It is, in fact, still wilderness to this day. 

 

There's much here more than homesteading.  In the wilderness, a day or two journey from their small ranch, Caswell and his brothers eventually discover enough gold that they set off what would become one the last great gold rushes: the Thunder Mountain rush.

 

For a more complete review, see:  Wilderness Brothers

 

Amazon.com:  More Information or Purchase

 

 

Links to the Best Books of Other Years:  See List

 

 

 

 

 


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