Head games in the hot, hot desert

by Lee Ross

No matter how well-mapped the world seems to be, explorers remain intrepid. In The Way Out, Colorado writer Craig Childs writes about how he and his traveling companion, Dirk Vaughan, found their way through a desert on the Navajo Indian Reservation in southern Utah.

Both Childs and Vaughan seem to crave the harsh truths of the stripped-down desert. "Human populations have been sudden and brief in this place," writes Childs, "the archaic nomads hunting bighorns and rabbits five, eight thousand years ago; the Anasazi in the eleventh and twelfth centuries … Dirk and me today, seeking refuge against these histories and our own."

Childs uses the vacant landscape and the weight of its past as a backdrop for his own memories and philosophical wanderings. He describes the desert’s overwhelming desolation and recalls enigmatic and tragic moments in both his and his friend’s lives.

Childs’ recollections involve his father, and alternate between soulful memories of tending campfires to drunken fistfights between father and son. Vaughan, on the other hand, remembers his hardboiled life as a cop in Denver, telling tales of fear and doubt and how he attempted to sort through the muck of society.

Something of a mystic, Childs finds hidden patterns in the barren architecture of the Utah desert, weaving together his disparate narratives, and finding another pattern in childhood memories and hard-edged stories.

The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival
Craig Childs
288 pages, hardcover $23.95: Little, Brown and Company, 2005

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