(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In BURNTWATER, travel writer and archaeologist Scott Thybony journeys with a friend, Scott Milzer, to the Four Corners along the Colorado Plateau to find a place called Burntwater on the Navajo Reservation. He decides that they will take the long way, traveling in a long arc through Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Interspersed with stories of the present journey are flashbacks of the rich and searching history that brought Thybony to this point. There are stories of Mad Kelly, who first introduced Thybony to the Four Corners, of Thybony’s first trip to the Four Corners some year before with the same friend, on which they met a Sun Clan Leader of the Hopi, of Thybony and his brother John, recently returned from flying helicopters in Vietnam, when they were shepherds for a Navajo family, and of his trip with his brother down into the Grand Canyon.

On the present trip, Thybony and his friend go to find the solitude of No Mans Mesa; to Davis Gulch, where explorer Everett Ruess had disappeared in the 1930’s; to Shirley’s Rock Shop and Butch Cassidy country; to Los Alamos and Trinity, where the atomic bomb was first developed and tested; to an all-night Zuni Shalako ceremony; and then to the remote but still used Temple of the Stone Lions. Thybony consistently captures the geographic magic of the area and the spiritual and cultural magic of the people who live there.

The beautiful last story is of Thybony’s previous trip alone into the Grand Canyon to find the spot where his brother crashed and died, and where Thybony himself almost died of dehydration.

When Thybony and Milzer refer to the map to locate their original destination, Burntwater, they realize that they have found destinations and fulfillments other than those they thought they were seeking.