Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names by Steve Allen is a massive, 4,000-place name encyclopedia-like set of books in two volumes that discusses the oral and written history, stories, background, and colorful characters who make up the history, culture, and background of the evocative region of the Colorado Plateau in Utah.
Allen, known for his well-regarded guidebooks for hiking and canyoneering, published these books after many years of research. Only some people have traveled as extensively in the Utah backcountry as Allen or know it as intimately.
I do not know Allen at all, but my gut feeling is that these books are a passion project that came out of his love for this area. I do not think he wrote this book to add to his income stream but rather a sincere desire to add to the body of knowledge of a place he obviously loves.
As mentioned, these two volumes are extensive. Covering not only physical features but also roads, towns, and historical figures, and taking into account the stories and history of the Indigenous peoples who made up this area long before the Spanish “explored” it, among many other facets.
The books get picked up as a resource by academics, historians, writers, outdoors people, and anyone interested in the area. Every person who’s thumbed through the volumes at our home found themselves in a wormhole where they want to find out more and more.
For our part, some examples we found intriguing include the history of Spanish Bottom (apparently a winter route for the Old Spanish Trail, following earlier routes for native people) and the salty oral history of Sweet Alice Spring (a USGS geographer did not like the cowboy name referring to some, ah, interaction there with some comely women. The geographer gave it a G-rated name instead!) as well as some less savory history about Grandstaff Canyon.
These volumes are expensive, costing about $100 for both books. Only because of a gift card and a holiday coupon at our excellent local bookstore could I justify the purchase.
But, oh, what a purchase! They have a place on our “map room” shelves, and I refer to them almost after every trip and often before. We’ll have the books and refer to them for years to come.
If you are interested in Utah’s Canyon Country, find yourself in the area often, and wish to know more about it beyond what a map shows, you can’t go wrong purchasing these books.
For Joan and I, they found a treasured and permanent place in our collection and enhanced our time immersing ourselves in Utah’s wild places.