Almost a year and a half ago, I was helping a friend in Ridgway clean out some old buildings he’d purchased and there were stacks of books. Most were romance novels and old stuff but some were things that had been on my “to read” list for a long time: Wilderness And The American Mind, A People’s History of The United States, and Beyond The Hundredth Meridian.
Since most of my traveling is in the American Southwest and the mountain states, I’ve been meaning to read Beyond The Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the American West by Wallace Stegner for a really long time. (In fact, I hadn’t read any Stegner at all and that was also starting to feel a little bit wrong.) When I headed to Mexico over Spring Break, this is the book I tossed into my pack. The paperback was a little bit beat up which made it a perfect choice for backpacking—it proved to be even better when my hiking partner forgot a book and we took a knife to the spine to split it into shared reading. The photo below is from a first edition, not of my paperback but it was prettier.
I’ve been putting off writing a review for a long time because there isn’t a whole lot to say beyond read this book. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian is about more than exploring the West and delves into how Powell became a driver of government funded science, an admirable bureaucrat, and most importantly, a man of vision about the future of the West in the face of increasing water pressures.
In addition to the fascinating information, I fell in love with Stegner’s writing. I was not only absorbing facts and dates about Powell’s impact on exploration, geology, the USGS topographical map project, grazing policy, the attempts to master plan dams and reservoirs, and more but I was honestly entertained. I wanted to just keep reading—and honestly, I’m buying another non-destroyed copy to read again.
There may be a million books out there to read but this one is something that shouldn’t be skipped. It’s a classic for good reason, toss it in your bag for your next great Western road trip!