Landscape of Desire

Gordon, Greg. Landscape of Desire: Identity and Nature in Utah’s Canyon Country. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2003.

Reviewed by Amber Despain.

Greg Gordon is the head of a Utah State University program that attracts students from all corners of the country and takes them out to the southeast Utah’s canyon country to live on and work with the land for 2 months. The three courses included in this two month period are Natural History of the Colorado Plateau, the Art of Nature Writing, and Wilderness Education. The group starts off from the Muddy River on the southern end of the San Rafael Swell and meanders its way to the tiny town of Hanksville, approximately 85 miles downriver, seeking to experience the landscape rather than merely hike through it as quickly as possible.

landscape of desire

Gordon recounts experiences and discussions had by the group during their wilderness experience. He paints a comprehensive picture of the land itself, both the geological history of how the Colorado Plateau was formed as well as the impact that mankind has had on the creatures who call this land home. Gordon addresses such issues as the animals killed on highways by unheeding motorists, the plight of wild horses, the consequences of the uranium mining boom, and the subsequent nuclear testing in Nevada that sent radioactive clouds into southern Utah. The history of this land is shown to have eras as harsh as the climate. Gordon, however, does not merely dwell on the negative. He explores the beauty of the land and the unique creatures that live here, spending as much time on beauty as on tragedy. A good comparison can be drawn to Gordon’s description of the juniper tree: “Is the juniper not emblematic of our own nature? Ancient and renewed each spring. Reaching for the stars yet rooted in rock. Uncertain directions and twisted paths” (59).

This book provided me with a greater understanding of and an increased affinity for the landscape I grew up in, not to mention an increased desire to go out and experience it for myself. Anyone who appreciates this region would do well to read this book and gain a more comprehensive understanding of it.