Desert Solitaire is a work filled with philosophical and stylistic paradox. The narrator works for the United States Park Service at Arches National Monument, providing services for tourists for whom, it appears, he has nothing but contempt. He saves some of his most vituperative prose for these sightseers, laden with cameras and “sealed in their metallic shells like molluscs on wheels.” He wonders how he can get them out of “that shiny hunk of GM junk” to take a walk. He wants them to see the land, to touch it, to know it, and finally to love it. Somehow if they can be converted, they will be a means to the salvation of the land. He conducts seditious seminars in the guise of campfire chats, wherein he hopes to kindle “the fires of revolt . . . which [mean] hope for us all.” He reviles the tourists, but he needs them. They are a fact of life, and their existence is by nature on a collision course with what remains of the desert wilderness in the Southwest.
Typically, Abbey is ambivalent about his relationship with the rest of humankind. The chapter titled “The Dead Man at Grandview Point” serves as a warning not to venture into such a hostile environment as the desert, where one might encounter death in various gruesome forms: snakebite, scorpion sting, starvation, heat prostration, or thirst. This graphic tale of a tourist unfamiliar with the desert, and thus ill-prepared to survive in it, is metaphorical of much that Abbey...
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