Place Where You Live:

Green River Valley, Utah

Whirlpool Canyon, Green River


My place is the Green River valley. The river itself links me there like a long, wet chain. That arid basin, home of oil-bearing shale, Jurassic dinosaur bones left in situ by ancient streams, and reintroduced bighorn sheep and peregrine falcons, is the place I grew into my self as a river guide, scientist, and writer.


When I first arrived there in 1974, the swath of river that ran north-south divided the valley into two distinctly different factions: irrigated, alfalfa-rich farmland on the west; dry, sage-filled desert on the east. I lived over east, in a Sioux tipi lit like a jack o’ lantern on nights when I kept a campfire. I moved from river camp to river camp, happily never landing anywhere for long.


At that time, the valley was in its first modern oil boom. Geologists crisscrossed the clay-topped badlands in white trucks, testing for petroleum traps that could be tapped; oilfield workers from all over the world crowded small towns that had been enclaves of Mormon families, Ute tribes, and occasional backcountry adventurers. That energy boom went bust, but its latest revival is transforming the landscape. From north of the Wyoming border, south along the river following underground beds of dark, fossiliferous shale, extraction of petroleum and natural gas has cast a web of big-headed, oil-pumping aliens across the formerly wide-open spaces. Antelope hide in the scrub of a landscape now netted with access roads. Black bear are forced from uplands to the riverbanks, displaced, adjusting to new habitat.


I still live along the Green River when I can: by boat, on foot, in my writing. Seeing it now, I cherish memories of a place that time forgot, before it was covered in the trappings of our unending need for more. The Green fills some of my favorite literature of the West, by Edward Abbey, Gretel Ehrlich, Ellen Meloy, and Wallace Stegner. In that same spirit, I too write about the meeting of east and west, arid and wet, oil and water. The stories we share transform as powerfully as an energy boom, if we let them.