Cloud theater
Photo by dsearls used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hendrie, Stygo (Scribner, 1995).
Nine interconnected stories sent in a (fictional) town in Bent County, in southeast Colorado.  This is the Colorado of the Great Plains,a small town surrounded by fields of sugar beets and corn. Everyone dreams of leaving, but few break away.

Google BookSearch gives you a preview — you can read the first two stories, “Stygo At Night” and “Armadillo.” This librarian (Judy?) in Salida, Colorado, was thoroughly impressed. Jessica Dineen (Ploughshares) says Hendrie describes a bleak town and its inhabitants with astoundingly beautiful clarity. The Colonel stakes his reputation as a reader on it. In the Boston Review, Hendrie reviewed fiction by Kent Haruf, also set in eastern Colorado. This fellow chauffeured Hendrie around Tucson.

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The Heart of the San Juans
Photo of the San Juans by borga used under a Creative Commons license.

Rick Bass, The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado (Houghton Mifflin, 1995).
Generally understood to have been extirpated from their historic range throughout the Lower 48 States save for isolated populations around Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, grizzly bears have nonetheless been rumored to still hold out in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Along with bear expert Doug Peacock — a larger-than-life character better known as the model for Hayduke in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang — and biologist Dennis Sizemore, Bass hiked into the San Juans to search for grizzlies.

Here is Google Book Search. The Mississippi Writers Project has biographical information about Bass. Thomas McNamee reviewed it in The New York Times. Mark Mardon reviewed it in Sierra. Here’s a capsule review from Entertainment Weekly. In Sandpoint Magazine, Dennis Nicholls writes about grizzlies. Bass wrote this piece about the bears for Time in 2002. Here’s a 2006 report of a grizzly sighting in the San Juans.

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Hoover Dam
Photo of the Hoover Dam by ubik14 used under a Creative Commons license.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (Penguin, 1993).
The epic tale of water and the American West. Water is scarce throughout the West, and so its history is one of water rights, irrigation, dams, and lots and lots of politics. Two federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers – have battled for years to control the floodgates. Reisner’s research was comprehensive, and he recounts events over several decades and explains water projects in several states. If this subject matter sounds dry (pun intended) to you, rest assured that it isn’t. This book will change the way you understand half of the country, and should be required reading for anyone living in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones.

Here is a bio of Reisner. Here is his obituary from The New York Times. Outside of term-paper sites, there is less discussion of it on the web than the book deserves, but here are Jerry Keeney, Faith, Marty, Ray Swider, and Branislav L. Slantchev. And Camron Assadi agrees that it’s a must-read.

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Front Range Compression
Photo by Fort Photo used under a Creative Commons license.

Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
Pyle grew up in the 1950s in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver then of 20,000 people on the edge of the country. Back then, Pyle found plenty of space to be outside, often along the High Line Canal, an abandoned part of an irrigation project. Part memoir of his childhood and part natural history, the book is named after a large, old cottonwood tree near the canal under which Pyle and his brother once took shelter during a severe hailstorm. Today, Aurora is ten times more populous, and children are more likely to spend their days inside or in structured activities supervised by grown-ups, losing an experience of nature that used to be mundane (in Pyle’s words, an “extinction of human experience”). Pyle went on to earn a Ph.D. in ecology, and the urban sprawl that has changed Aurora was part of the impetus for this book.

Here is a page about Pyle hosted by Central Washington University’s Department of Geography, with a bio, a bibliography, and links to some of his other writing. NoSurfGirl has more about Butterfly Bob. Here is a review of the book by Sandy D. Donna McIlvaine has what seems to be material from the book’s jacket. Bernard Mergen writes about children and nature in Environmental History.

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