The Great WOWtdoors | Get Out | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Get Out

The Great WOWtdoors

A new hiking guidebook conveys a sense of wonder, not just the facts.



When looking for a book outlining various hikes in a particular region, the reader will of course want information about what to expect on the trail, how to get there, how much time to plan on, what to bring, etc. Is it fair to ask for more than just the technical stuff? Is it too much to expect the genre of outdoor recreation books also to provide entertaining prose that gives the reader a sense of encouragement about actually wanting to get out and try some of the hikes being described?

Fair or not, it’s the level Kathy and Craig Copeland have risen to in Hiking From Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. The couple not only gives plenty of relevant information needed for the hikes, they also provide for a fun read along the way packed with insights into a variety of areas.

The Copelands have written a number of books for Wilderness Press, including Done in a Day Moab. The “WOW” in this one stands for “wonder of wilderness” and covers 90 hikes in Utah in the area running roughly from Interstate 70 in the north to the state line in the south, and from Interstate 15 in the west to Highway 191 in the east. Many of the journeys are set in familiar places such as Zion, Grand Staircase, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands.

Be forewarned: The Copelands seem to be every bit the stereotypical granolas one might expect to find writing for a publisher based in Berkeley. If you find that sort of person overbearing—or simply want to hit the trail without being preached to about politics—be prepared for sentences like, “Canyons are like people,” phrases such as “brazenly ethnocentric,” valentines to groups like the Sierra Club, and diatribes about how much Americans drive (even though most people would require an automobile to get to where most of these hikes start).

But the reader who can wade through all of that gets rewarded with interesting information about Depression-era workers in Zion Canyon earning $1 a day as part of the piece on the West Rim of the park. In the section on Cable Mountain, the authors provide an interesting tale about Brigham Young and a system the pioneers developed for transporting wood. The guide to the Zion Narrows hike gets the reader thinking about just how deep the slot canyons are by giving a mental picture of how much of an area they would cover if flattened out. The introduction on the Boulder Mail Trail gives history about how the current slickrock trail was once trod by donkeys carrying mail to “the last place in the U.S. to gain automobile access”—a place which also “remains the farthest hamlet from a U.S. interstate.”

Perhaps the best story of the book recalls how a 16-year-old Kathy, while coming down with a cold, stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing a term paper on James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The next morning, she awoke early to head off to Paria River Canyon for the first time. As the book states, “Unfit, ill, burdened with a heavy, creaky, overloaded, antiquated Camp Trails backpack, wearing Tretorn tennis shoes floppy as house slippers, she slogged down the sandy riverbed into the canyon. … Each night, coughing and sneezing, she collapsed in her tent after dinner.”

But what was the outcome of all of that? As we’re told in an excellent piece of descriptive writing, “What she remembers feeling most is awe. The sheer, soaring, canyon walls were the most spectacular sight she’d ever seen. Meandering through the serpentine narrows—so constricted she tried to touch both sides at once—had been wondrous.”

And that’s just one of the reasons we go out and hike. The beauty of the Copelands’ book is they not only give us the how of hiking, but also remind us about the why.

By kathy and Craig Copeland Wilderness Press 2008 446 pages $29.95 paperback

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