“Resist much. Obey little.”

That’s the Walt Whitman quote printed in the opening pages of The Monkey Wrench Gang, a copy of which I now own courtesy of my friend Dan Miller. Dan read my post “That Book is Not Approved” on the day Jill and I visited him and his wife, Diane, in Richmond, Utah.

It’s fitting that Dan should fulfill this particular reading request, because he is filled with the rebellious spirit of Ed Abbey ­­— and, by extension, Abbey’s Monkey Wrench alter ego, Seldom Seen Smith. If I were a ranger at Glen Canyon Dam, I wouldn’t let Dan anywhere near the place.

Dan being Dan, he didn’t just give me any copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang, but the Tenth Anniversary Edition with illustrations by R. Crumb. The book’s dust jacket is creased and weathered, its edges ragged, but it still brims with pulp-fiction color — not unlike Dan himself, who has spent a lifetime wandering beneath the Utah sun in boots, ski bindings and rowboats but still has the wild eyes and devilish grin of a teenaged rabble-rouser.

I don’t think Dan would ever plot to blow up Glen Canyon Dam (would you, Dan?), but, as executive director of the Bear River Watershed Council, he’s not done rabble-rousing for worthy wilderness causes. He’s also the co-author of High in Utah, a hiking guidebook that details the ascents of the highest peaks in our 45th state.

High in Utah, too, contains a quote in its opening pages: “Alaska is our biggest, buggiest, boggiest state. Texas remains our largest unfrozen state. But mountainous Utah, if ironed out flat, would take up more space on a map than either.”

The source of that one? Edward Abbey. So I guess we’ve come full circle.

Thanks, Dan. For sharing your well-loved copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang and your passion for Utah’s wild places. I’m already a few chapters into the former, and Jill and I can’t wait to explore the latter in all its un-ironed-out glory.


You can’t miss the LDS Temple in Logan, Utah — it’s nearly 120,000 square feet and sits on 9 acres. The Mormons don’t mess around when it comes to architecture. Volunteer laborers built the five-story temple during a seven-year period from 1877 to 1884. It’s an amazing sight, made even more dramatic by the surrounding mountains of Cache Valley. The flood lights, which were permanently installed on the temple’s 63rd anniversary, add a little extra drama at dusk.


Scott has four photo albums that predate me. In each of them are a few pictures of family, friends and plenty of ex-girlfriends. But page after page is dedicated to mountains, rivers, lakes and trails. These are the places that for seven years Scott has promised to bring me to. Bear Lake is one of those. It is located at the north end of Logan Canyon, after a 40-mile stretch of a snowy winter wonderland. It’s breathtaking for me, but for Scott it’s a deep sigh. There is more meaning for him in these miles of mountains than I could begin to understand. Thankfully, we have a long road trip ahead of us.


Our journey would not be possible if not for the hospitality of friends and family across the country who have promised to open their homes to our weary heads, dirty clothes and smelly dogs. So from time to time we’d like to pay tribute to our benefactors in a small, bloggy way. Our inaugural hosts: Kreg and Maryn Edgmon of Kaysville, Utah.

My first job out of college was at a newspaper in Logan, Utah. I arrived in a rattling moving truck with three days days left on the rental agreement. I needed to find a place to live, and I needed to do it fast. After two and a half days of fruitless searching, I came across a “For Rent” sign in front of a one-bedroom apartment in the second story of a 100-year-old house. It occupied a corner lot with a giant spruce tree, five blocks from my new workplace.

It was perfect. But a phone call revealed that the landlord did not live in town and was presently en route to show the apartment to four other prospective renters. I decided to sit tight and join the tour when it commenced.

The landlord arrived early to open up the place, and I introduced myself. He was not what I expected. He was about my age, which back then was 25. He had the appearance of a guy who’d just been hard-scrubbed with Ivory and dressed by J. Crew, yet his speech rhythm suggested heavy marijuana usage. I would soon discover that not only did he not smoke pot, he didn’t even drink caffeine.

This was Kreg.

Employing my fledgling reportage skills, I peppered Kreg with questions while we waited for the other would-be renters to arrive. I learned his family had just purchased the house as an investment. I learned he would be living in the downstairs apartment while he pursued a doctoral degree at Utah State University. I learned the house would be the first property he had ever managed. I learned he owned a golden retriever named Pote. I learned he had served an LDS mission in France, and that Pote was French for “buddy”.

A quiet doctoral student who’s best bud was a golden retriever?  This was my kind of landlord. Unfortunately, the other candidates for the apartment seemed more like his kind of renters. All were well dressed, polite and seemingly fresh from that same Ivory scrubbing. Me, I was just an unshaven guy with a redneck drawl and no other options.

When the others finished their handshakes and got in their cars, I lingered and made a Hail Mary pitch. “Listen,” I told Kreg, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t listen to loud music, and if something breaks I don’t mind trying to fix it.” At least three of these things were actually true. “I work nights, so it will be like I’m not even here.”

Against what was surely his better judgment, Kreg took a chance on me. And since I knew no one else in town, he helped me move in furniture. A week later, when I asked to “borrow” his dog for companionship on a midday hike, Kreg said yes. Pote soon became my best buddy.

Turns out Kreg was a bit of a night owl. Quick hellos in the stairwell turned into long discussions about life. We talked about the import stuff: family, religion, girls. One evening I invited Kreg upstairs for pizza. He gave me a sideways glance when he saw a bottle Jack Daniel’s and cluster of cigars atop my fridge. I shrugged and handed him a Dr. Pepper.

In the age of Facebook, when friendships are “accepted” more often than forged, thinking about how a devout Mormon landlord and his backslid Southern Baptist tenant formed a brotherly bond on stairs, hiking trails and ski slopes makes me feel as warm and fuzzy as all the fleece I packed for this trip.

A lot has changed in the 12 years since I moved out of that upstairs apartment: Pote has passed away (Kreg called me the day he had to put him down); Kreg got married (he and Maryn have three ridiculously sweet redheaded girls); and he owns his own business (it’s a residential treatment center for troubled boys).

One thing, though, hasn’t changed: When I need a place to stay in Utah, I can count on Kreg to open his house to me and make me feel like family.

Kreg, Maryn and their three ridiculously sweet redheaded girls


As it happens, the first official chapter of our journey is to be written in a place called Page.

Those of you who are familiar with Northern Arizona and Southern Utah will know Page, Ariz., as the closest neighboring city to Lake Powell. We arrived just short of midnight, so we didn’t initially see the lake. But I knew we were getting close when we crested a hill and saw smoke billowing from the three massive chimneys at Navajo Generating Station.

Those chimneys are nearly 300 feet taller than the tallest building in Phoenix, and, if the Salt River Project’s website is to be believed, the sulfur dioxide scrubbers inside them help make Navajo Generating Station “one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the country.” Then again, if the advocacy group Environment Arizona’s website is to be believed, NGS “is the eighth-dirtiest plant in the country.”

Navajo Generating Station is just one of Page’s entries into the great Human Ingenuity vs. Environmental Responsibility debate. Located a few miles across the rust-colored plateau, clogging the cold green waters of the Colorado River like a colossal cinderblock, is Glen Canyon Dam.

Glen Canyon Dam provides hydroelectric power to parts of Arizona and Utah, and, more importantly, stores water for 27 million people in the West. It also provides irrigation for 3.5 acres of farmland.

But, for many Westerners who love this part of the country for its wide-open beauty, Glen Canyon Dam is an icon of ecological degradation. When the dam was completed in 1963, it began flooding an 186-mile stretch of the Colorado River and submerging the geological splendor of Glen Canyon. An entire ecosystem died. Sierra Club founder David Brower called the dam “America’s most regretted environmental mistake.”

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never read The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, but I know what it’s about: Four “environmental terrorists,” who love the wildness of the land and loathe the federal government’s idea of progress, plot to blow Glen Canyon Dam to smithereens.

I’ve been to Glen Canyon before. I’ve walked across the dam, and I’ve spent many an enjoyable day on Lake Powell, the recreational area created by all that flooding. So when Jill and I pulled into the empty lot of the Carl Hayden Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam, I was really only curious about one thing: Would its gift shop display the most famous book ever written about this particular tourist attraction?

I thought I might buy a copy.

As it turns out, the visitor center’s gift shop is more like a bookstore. It is operated by the Glen Canyon Natural History Association, and it indeed houses a small section of books devoted to the work of Edward Abbey. There are selections of his nonfiction, a biography, a collection of essays, a compilation of notes and photos. But the novel I’m looking for is conspicuously absent, so I mosey over to the salesperson and pose my loaded question.

“Do you guys stock The Monkey Wrench Gang?”

The salesperson’s reply seems practiced. He has no doubt fielded this question before. “That book,” he says flatly, “ is not approved for this location.”

Every outsider, be they an engineer or an environmentalist, brings his own history into a place, and I’m no different. I come from East Tennessee, where, in the 1930s, the federal government began building dams to harness the hydroelectric power of the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created to manage that power and spread electricity across the South. The TVA also created thousands of jobs in a time of deep depression.

Maybe this is why, despite my lament for the canyons and side canyons lost under all that water, I’ve never been able to work up much ire about Glen Canyon Dam. I look at the endless concrete plugging up a wild river, and I can’t help but think of the families it helps.

What’s the price of this progress? In the case of Glen Canyon Dam, it’s 272 million 1963 dollars and 1.2 million acres of drowned America. In the case of Navajo Generating Station, it’s $1 billion and air pollution equivalent to 3.5 million automobiles.

This is the sort of stuff that was going through my head yesterday morning as I photographed Lake Powell with my iPhone.

An iPhone. Now that’s progress I can get my head around. Mine even has an application that can pinpoint my location and tell me where the closest library or bookstore is.

Looks like there’s an independent bookseller up Highway 89 in Kanab. I sure hope it has a used copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang.