From the stale world of coffee-table books, Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau offers a jolt of caffeine. The quality of the reproductions is top-notch and the text is worth reading, though this is hardly surprising given photographer Jack Dykinga and writer Charles Bowden, both of Tucson. Their subject is the slickrock country of southern Utah, specifically the Paria and Escalante rivers. Bowden, one of the West's most imaginative writers, juxtaposes staple characters from Utah history - Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers and zealot John D. Lee of the Mountain Meadows Massacre - to unexpected ends. His conclusion: The canyonlands were never meant to be pioneered. Any attempt to change this country can only fail, he believes, and that "failure will in time become a national treasure." Bowden adds his name here to the list of notable writers who have taken a stand on the Utah wilderness debate; Dykinga's images alone may win some converts to the belief that Utah's southland can in no way be improved.


Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1996. 128 pages, 81 photographs. Cloth, $45.


*Jared Farmer