David Gessner was car-camping in the American West when he picked up Edward Abbey’s classic book, Desert Solitaire. It changed his life. Later, after being diagnosed with cancer, he moved to Colorado, and discovered the work of another iconic writer of the American West, Wallace Stegner.
For his new book, All The Wild That Remains, Gessner sets off in search of these two writer-environmentalists, traveling from Stegner’s birthplace in Saskatchewan, Canada, to Arches National Park in Utah, which inspired some of Edward Abbey finest writing.
From his home in Massachusetts, he explains what drew him to these two, very different writers; how Ken Kesey discovered LSD in a CIA experiment; how fracking is part of a long history of boom and bust in the West; and why it is so important to preserve the remaining wild places.
Your book is the story of a 9,000-mile journey into the West. It is also a pilgrimage in the footsteps of two writers, little known in America today, and still less outside it. What made you decide to disinter them?
I grew up in Massachusetts and when I was about 28, I was camping out West. Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey was for sale and at the Park Service, so I picked it up. I was car camping;. The challenge from Abbey was: don’t car camp, do more. The next thing I knew, for the first time in my life I went backcountry camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park and I thought, “Hey, that’s a pretty direct, literary influence....