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Books included in the list below all contain subject matter which deals with the desert southwest, the outdoors, natural history or other topics of interest to the author. I have found that the more you learn about a place the more you see, the deeper your understanding becomes, and the more it becomes a part of you. A rating system (1-5 stars) has been included based on my own subjective and opinionated viewpoint, which you can ignore or attach unwarranted importance to as you see fit.

Trail Guides

Books on hiking are a good way to find some good places to explore since there are usually descriptions of areas and pictures. Books are not a substitute for maps however, so it is a good idea to purchase a map of the area you will be visiting (one that encompasses the driving route you will be taking is preferable, since it may save many fruitless hours of searching for a trail or route entrance).  Many of the hiking books sold through outfitters seem to be written for people who prefer very short day hikes (3-7 miles) making them fairly useless, though you may be able to employ them to piece together a real hike.

  • Mazel, David, Arizona Trails - 100 Hikes in Canyon and Sierra, Wilderness Press, Berkley, CA, 1992

    This was the first hiking book I purchased after moving to AZ and it has proved to be one that I continue to reference (though it's looking a little ratty these days). Hikes from the Grand Canyon to the Chiricahuas (including many longer ones) are described in detail and include trail lengths, elevation changes, natural history,  trail descriptions, best times to hike and photos. Maps are also included, but are cropped in odd placed and have to be read across several pages making them difficult to read (I have gotten lost using only this book, so carry a separate map as well). This book may no longer be in print.

  • Kelsey, Michael, Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - 5th edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 2006
    This is the definitive canyon hiking book out there. The book outlines 120 hikes mostly in southern Utah (including Canyonlands, Arches NP, Grand Staircase Escalante, Paria River, Zion NP and others), northern Arizona (Grand Canyon NP, Navajo Nation and West Clear Creek), as well as a few hikes in Colorado. It provides a tremendous amount of information for its size (maps, geology, photos - the works) all in a great, easy to reference format. Many people have strong opinions of this book - I have to confess it's one of my favorites.

    With the release of the 5th addition, Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau is now all in color and contains many excellent photographs that make for good browsing as well as for use to help plan the best places to visit. Like Michael’s other books this one provides a high return for the money. It’s a must-have for anyone interested in venturing into the canyon country. Be aware, however, that the book contains some idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to:

    • Some descriptions are brief - the phrase "route find east to the next canyon" may encompass several hours of nasty bush whacking and a thousand foot elevation gain. This brevity may also lead to difficulty in following described routes or finding trail heads.

    • Michael is a hard core hiker - if he uses the words steep, long, difficult or narrow, you can safely add the qualifier "extremely" before each of these adjectives. In cases where he lists the length of time it took for him to complete a particular hike, multiply that time by 1.5 or more to determine how much time you may want to allot.

    • Like any book, information becomes dated over time. Actual hiking or road conditions may have changed since the hike was written up. 

  • Kelsey, Michael, Hiking and Exploring the Paria River - 5th edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 2010
    With the release of the 5th edition, Michael has greatly expanded his Paria book to include a number of technical canyons in the Paria area. Like his other books, this one is now all in color. With the many photographs throughout the text it makes for pleasant browsing on the couch when it’s not possible to get away for a hike. In addition to extensive information about hiking the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch, the book covers a significant area to the north along Cottonwood Wash Road in the Grand Staircase National Monument as well as Bryce Canyon and other areas.

    The book contains a bit of something for anyone who might be interested in the outdoors or historic areas. Along with many hiking routes, the book now contains a number of technical canyons for the more adventurous explorers. You will also find it to be the best resource for many unique natural features (hoodoos, arches and rock formations) and man-made features (from Mormon settlers and earlier) that photographers will enjoy. Michael has also done quite a bit of investigation into the history of the area, and includes information and photographs throughout the text that adds depth and context to the sites seen when traveling in the region. I’ve yet to find a better book for the Paria River, certainly nothing that approaches this book’s comprehensive scope. It should also be noted that the price ($13.57 on Amazon as I write this) is a steal. 

  • Kelsey, Michael, Technical Slot Canyon Guide to the Colorado Plateau – 2nd edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 2008
    This is the authoritative guide to technical slot canyons on the Colorado Plateau and includes canyons suitable for a range of skill levels from beginner to expert. The book covers canyons throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah (and two in Colorado), and while the canyons are mostly sandstone in composition, they are fairly diverse in terms of water, features, technical challenges, and appearance. They also include some of the most beautiful canyons to be found. I learned of canyons and got my start in the sport of canyoneering by reading an earlier edition of this book and visiting the locations listed. Michael puts out editions faster than I can keep up though and I suspect it will be some time before I get to all the places in this version.

    The book includes 75 descriptions comprising well over 100 canyons with color photos. The maps are hand drawn and will get you where you’re going, but as with any guidebook, you’ll want to carry full USGS 1:24,000, 7.5 minute topographic maps for the added detail they provide. Also be aware that some of the canyons included in this edition are very difficult, requiring difficult climbing, high stemming, and deep pothole escapes. Read the description closely to make sure it is suitable for your experience.

    For those willing to develop the requisite skills to complete them, the Technical Slot Canyon Guide will provide many days of adventure.

  • Kelsey, Michael, Boater’s Guide to Lake Powell – 5th  edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 2008
    Not everyone who ventures onto Lake Powell just wants to fish, drink and sunbathe. For the rest, there are many things to see and do from the lake, many of which can be found in the Boater’s Guide including: hiking, camping, canyoneering, archeological sites and tons of great scenery. The trips range from easy hikes to hard core canyoneering adventures.

    In addition, Michael has included information for boaters (marinas, launch sites, fuel) camping and hiking tips as well as historical and geological information about the area. The book is now all in color which highlights the photographic opportunities to be had. Hand drawn maps are included throughout the text, but I found it helpful to have a GPS and detailed lake map with coordinates since the shoreline is so complex I find it hard to orient myself to the landscape. 

  • Kelsey, Michael, Hiking and Exploring Utah's Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost - 3rd edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 2009
    This is the only guidebook to the technical slot canyons of the Robbers Roost area on the market. I’ve only done a few canyons in the area so far, but they’ve all been remarkably scenic. Robbers Roost also features the Great Gallery, which is one of the best pictograph panels around. Although the bulk of the book is dedicated to canyoneering, the book also features some hikes in the Henry Mountains. I used this guide to climb Mt. Ellen a few years ago as a way to escape the heat of the desert. On a summer day projected to hit 110 F, we actually experienced a little sleet on the 11,500 ft summit of Mt. Ellen. The last section of the book details the history of the area including the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch in the 1880s-90s.

    This 3rd edition is all in color and features great photographs throughout, including many historic pictures of early inhabitants of the region. Hand drawn maps are included for all hikes which include profile views for the canyons (which is a very handy way to get an overview of the canyon at a glance).

  • Kelsey, Michael, Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell - 3rd edition, Kelsey Publishing, Provo Utah, 1999
    Another great Kelsey book. Not so many hikes as the publication above, but still well worth the sticker price. 

  • Annerino, John, Hiking the Grand Canyon, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 1993

    I use this book as a reference for every Grand Canyon backpacking trip (mainly for the trail mileage information).  This book also contains trail descriptions, natural history, canyon history, geology and a dose of environmental protection info as well.  You have to skip around in the book to find the information you are looking for, but it's a good reference.

  • Allan, Steve, Canyoneering 1, 2 & 3, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992

    This series of books covers:
    1: San Rafael Swell
    2: Technical Loop hikes in Southern Utah
    3: Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante
    Many interesting canyons are described, including many technical hikes. I have heard high praise for Steve's books, and the descriptions (when I have used them) are quite thorough. Because specific hikes/canyons are difficult to reference, there are no maps to speak of, and most of these canyons are covered by Michael Kelsey, I don't really use these books very much for hike planning (except perhaps as another source of descriptive info where Kelsey is brief). Maybe I'll get into them more at some point, but will have to summon the effort to break out the maps and follow along as the author describes a particular route.

  • Martin, Tom, Day Hikes from the River: A Guide to Hikes from Camps Along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon – 4th  edition, Vishnu Temple Press, 2010
    This book is a very good resource for those rafting Grand Canyon who want to see all the best places along the way. It also is a great guide for technical canyoneers looking for information on remote Canyon locations. The photos and maps are rather low quality, but they convey the necessary information.

    Cosmic, Ray, The Favorite Hikes, Flagstaff & Sedona, Cosmic Ray, Flagstaff, AZ, 1996

    More of a pamphlet than a book, a bunch of short hikes are described along with some pretty good hand drawn maps. You can get some good ideas for placed to go, but you'll have to bang out 3 or 4 of his hikes for them to add up to a full day of walking. Directions to the trailheads are good.


  • Bryce Canyon National Park, National Geographic Maps Trails Illustrated

    I own a number of these Trails Illustrated maps which cover many of the southwest's national parks.  They are made of plastic, are easy to read with good trail and road information and have detailed topo lines.  The drawbacks are that no trail mileage is listed and they are fairly pricey (around $10 each).  Bryce Canyon is fairly small so you probably don't even need this map.

  • Canyonlands Maze District, National Geographic Maps Trails Illustrated
    The topo part of this map is good, but there are quite a few errors in the layout of the trails and no trail mileage.

  • Glen Canyon NRA Capitol Reef NP Rainbow Bridge NM, National Geographic Maps Trails Illustrated
    The topo part of this map is good, but once again the trail and road locations are weak.

  • Grand Canyon National Park, National Geographic Maps Trails Illustrated
    Good, easy to read map with topo and trails.  No trail mileage listed though.

  • San Francisco Peak, EarthTracks Map
    This map covers Mt. Humphrey and the surrounding peaks.  EarthTracks makes very good, easy to read maps that have trail and topo information combined (including trail mileage).  They are made of paper, so bring a resealable plastic bag to store it in the event of a rain storm.

  • Santa Catalina Mountains Map, Rainbow Expeditions Inc.
    The best map around for hiking in the Catalina's near Tucson.  Includes topo, trails and mileage.  Made of a coated paper that is moderately durable.

  • Superstition Wilderness Arizona Topographic Map, Beartooth Maps
    Beartooth makes the kind of maps I wish I had for every area I hike, unfortunately they only seem to have a few hiking maps out at the moment.  Definitely the best map around for the Superstitions.

  • Tonto National Forest, US Forest Service Map
    Encompasses a very large area some of which is not covered in other maps, however, like most USFS maps they are made of paper, do not have topo markings, do not have trail mileage and are difficult to read.

Hiking & Camping

  • Jardine, Ray, Beyond Backing, AdventureLore Press, LaPine, OR, 2000
    Ray has been described as the father of ultra lightweight backpacking. His book on the topic gives many excellent suggestions for shedding pack weight (the main reason to buy this book) and shatters many of the myths propagated by gear manufacturers to get us to buy their products. He also covers topics ranging from minimum impact camping to techniques for crossing streams & snowfields. The writing is rather dry (alright who's to talk, but I'm not charging you $20!) and his section on gear mentions GoLite (a lightweight gear manufacturer he is associated with) like 100 times, but so much great info can be garnered from this book it more than makes up for it.

Natural History

  • Epple, Anne O., and Epple, Lewis E., A field Guide to the Plants of Arizona, Falcon Press, Mesa, AZ, 1995
    This is the best book available for identifying plants you are likely to encounter as you hike in Arizona. There are 853 color photos as well as written descriptions and some natural history facts. The one drawback is that the photos are arranged by flower color and type which makes identification of plants without flowers rather difficult.

Environmental Issues

  • Sessions, George (editor), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, Shambhala Publications, Boston, 1995
    A collection of philosophical essays that examine mans relationship with the natural world and the concept of 'Deep Ecology' an ecocentric rather than anthropocentric way of viewing the world.  Many essays are very good and thought provoking & may help crystallize your own thoughts or feelings.

  • Meadows, Donella H., Meadows, Dennis L., Randers Jorgen, Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse Envisioning a Sustainable Future, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont, 1992
    The authors treat the earth as a system examining such variables as: population, lifespan, raw materials, industrial output, pollution, food production, technology and standard of living. They look at the current and future state of each variable and attempt to model their complex interactions. They analyze a host of possible future outcomes using various assumptions as to population growth, the availability of undiscovered resources etc. The resulting models most often show overshoot and unsustainable use of available resources, resulting in environmental and economic collapse. The authors advocate for fundamental changes in the way the human population lives (particularly those in the developing world) to move towards a sustainable society.

  • Reisner, Marc, Cadillac Desert, Viking Penguin Inc., New York, 1993
    Describes the insanity behind many of the water issues and ongoing battles faced by the west.

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists, The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999
    Where and how you spend your money has a very real effect on the environment. This book provides good, practical advice outlining the areas where your spending has the greatest influence and what you can do to minimize the environmental impact. Though many of the conclusions are obvious (buying a fuel efficient compact is better than a gas guzzling SUV/pickup) and the authors back away from any controversy (the environmental impact of your decision to have children), there is still some interesting and useful information to be gleaned from this publication.

  • Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring, G.K. Hall & Co., Maine, 1962
    An important and influential book which focuses on many of the dangers and effects of pesticide use. Though the book was published over 40 years ago, there is much that remains relevant today.

Simple Living

  • Dominguez, Joe; & Robin, Vicki, Your Money or Your Life, Penguin Books, New York, 1992
    Billed as a book to 'Transform your relationship with money and achieve financial independence'. Really great book which may help to prioritize your values. Delves into a topic you hear all too little about in todays society - "enough". Also offers practical tips to live better for less. The author and his wife have begun following the steps in this book. You'll know whether they are successful or not when you begin to see hike descriptions updated on a daily basis instead of weekly or monthly!

  • De Graaf, John; Wann, David; & Naylor, Thomas, Affluenza, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. , 2001
    Successfully argues that 'too much' is a disease (perhaps terminal) that is draining our lives, the community and the planet. Entertaining, well written and right on the mark. Also offers tips for developing a life style that is more sustainable and rewarding.


  • Huffington, Arianna, Pigs at the Trough, Crown Publishers, New York, 2003
    Outlines the closed loop process of corporate greed and political contributions that are subverting democracy and bankrupting the small investor. Very lively, funny and maddening to read. 

  • Stauber, John; Rampton, Sheldon, Toxic Sludge is Good For You (Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry), Common Courage Press, Maine, 1995
    Many groups, industries and think tanks would like to influence your opinion to suit their needs. The book explains who these groups are and the techniques they use, enabling you to recognize their lies for what they are. A serious issue? Definitely, but also an entertaining and enlightening read.

Edward Abbey

  • Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire, Ballentine Books, New York, 1968
    One of my favorite Abbey books.   It really captures the beauty, fragility and spirit of the desert southwest with insight and acidic humor that only Abbey could pen.

  • Abbey, Edward, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Avon Books, New York, 1985
    The other Abbey 'must read', quite subversive and funny.