In writing Desert Solitaire, Abbey places his work alongside other major texts of the environmental literature movement. Most important is Henry David Thoreau's Walden, published in 1854, which documents that writer's experience living in voluntary poverty in a small, remote cabin. Like Thoreau, Abbey is both humorous and cantankerous, with a wide-ranging intellect. The stories in Desert Solitaire describe adventures during his time in the canyonlands, and he argues for the fragility of nature, man's requisite humility when approaching wildness, and his affinity for rural life and self-sustainability.
Abbey documents the steady and nefarious creep of civilization into the wilderness, which he lampoons in "Havasu," noting how the local natives have decided against allowing the Department of the Interior to bulldoze a road right up to their spectacular waterfalls. There is value in being remote, in being hard to reach, suggests Abbey. Easy access is not always a good thing.
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