If you can’t find me scaling mountains outside, you’ll likely find me curled up with a good book, scaling mountains on paper. Here are my five favorite outdoor books that every west-coast adventurer should read!
Disclaimer: I originally titled this list as “5 Books That EVERY Outdoor Enthusiast Should Read,” but I quickly realized that 4 out of the 5 books specifically were about the western United States. What can I say? I might be just a little biased – I’m born, raised, and have only ever lived in the western United States! These mountains are my home, and I absolutely love reading about the history of my very own backyard.
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Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart is hands down one of my favorite books of all time. A memoir of one hiker’s thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, this book is refreshing, comical, and empowering. I think the thing that I love most about her story is that it details the day-to-day life on the trail instead of focusing on her life leading up to it (here’s looking at you, Wild). Carrot is an extremely talented writer, and makes you feel like you are hiking right alongside her. I pickup this book whenever I’m itching for adventure, and it never fails to inspire me to start planning my next trip.
Get it here: Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn
The Last Season by Eric Blehm
The Last Season details the life and disappearance of Randy Morgenson, a Sierra backcountry ranger who mysteriously vanished during one of his backcountry stints. Written against the backdrop of California’s Sierra Nevada range, this biography is truly gripping, and I had to stop myself from reading it too fast, as I was desperate to understand what happened to Ranger Morgenson. Morgenson and Blehm both clearly share the same love for the Sierra, one that I share as well, and it was fascinating to hear about some of the unknowns surrounding my favorite mountain range. Blehm is a detailed and well-researched writer, and leaves out no detail of the search and Morgenson’s life. It was also absolutely fascinating to learn more about the lives and trials of backcountry rangers. The Last Season truly is a great novel for anybody who loves spending time in the backcountry.
Get it here: The Last Season by Eric Blehm
Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
Cadillac Desert tells a less-famous side of the history of the western United States and how it became to be as we know it – by bringing water to the desert and turning into the metropolises that we know it as (think Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix). This book really opened my eyes to the natural landscape of some of my favorite cities, and how life as we know it wouldn’t have been possible without the various ways in which water was brought (and stolen!) to the region. Cadillac Desert also dives into the first exploration of the Colorado River, the great dam obsession in the early- to mid-1900s, and the great lengths that the City of Los Angeles took to alter the Owens Valley forever. For all of you history nerds out there, this book is a must-read!
Get it here: Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs
The Secret Knowledge of Water is probably one of the most fascinating books that I’ve ever read. It follows the author’s search for water through the deserts of the American Southwest. Through his exploration, Childs documents his techniques for finding water in arid, seemingly hospitable places, and he does so beyond poetically. Childs does his best to break the stigma that the American Southwest is nothing but dry desert, and within the first few pages, I was convinced. Other than document his physical search, this book explores the relationship that water has on whatever region it calls home, and gives insight as to both the beauty and terror that water can truly havoc on a landscape. Childs has a talent for “painting” with words, and I felt like I could truly see whatever landscape that he was describing. Regardless of whether you live in the American Southwest, The Secret Knowledge of Water will leave you with a better understanding and awe of water, the deserts of the world, and even your own backyard (wherever it may be).
Get it here: The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs
On Trails by Robert Moor
On Trails, written by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, is a memoir about one man’s journey to discover the inherent nature of trails themselves. Created by both humans and animals alike, trails have been created ever since the dawn of time. In his book, Moor walks all sorts of trails, and uses his book to share his knowledge of what they, and their creators, can teach us about our own lives in and around the broader world. Moro’s novel is poetic, historical, and shows the reader just how connected we all may be.
Get it here: On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
What I’m Reading Now
Where the Water Goes by David Owen
My current read is Where the Water Goes by David Owen. From the inside cover: “The Colorado River is an essential resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghosts towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.-Mexico border where the river runs dry. Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.”
Get it here: Where the Water Goes by David Owen
Although I own all of these books either by paperback or hardcover, I recently switched to a Kindle, and absolutely love it! Interested in having your entire bookshelf at the tip of your fingers? Consider signing up for Kindle Unlimited; the lightest way to bring books into the backcountry. I have a super basic Kindle, and love curling up with a good book at the end of a long hike – without having carried all of the weight!
What are some of your favorite outdoor books? Drop them in the comments below – I’m always looking for a good new read!
Happy trails (and reading)!