In their new book, “The Magical Universe of the Ancients: A Desert Journal,” locals Julie Weston and Gerry Morrison explore the majesty of America’s national parks and monuments in the Four Corners region, as well as the ancient history of the indigenous tribes who called that desert home.
Weston—well known as the author of Nellie Burns mystery series—chronicles the pair’s journey through historic sites in journal entries, as Morrison’s photography highlights some of the most striking vistas the west has to offer.
As much as it is a reverential tour of the unique history and geography of the American West, the book is also a call to action, a pressing reminder that these cultural treasures—already in ruins—are in danger of disappearing forever as developers, oil companies and ladder-climbing politicians scramble for profits.
COVID-19 has only made the situation more dire, Weston said, as so many officials and voters operate on an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. With visits to national parks and monuments limited at the moment, these treasures are in danger of losing real estate in the ever-shifting public consciousness.
“It’s very difficult. Unless people see it, they don’t understand how beautiful, how stark and how moving it is,” Weston said. “You can read the facts, read that this building is 5,000 years old, but that doesn’t mean anything when you’re just putting numbers in your head. It’s phenomenal what kind of civilization was going on before our civilization arrived.”
There’s a moment a little more than halfway through the book, while Weston and Morrison are visiting Utah’s Grand Gulch. They find it a secluded area of remarkable, all-encompassing historical perspective, but passenger jets continually pass over head. “Their exhausts leave sky worms that dissipate into broad fluffy ribbons, a sign of modern man. It is inescapable,” Weston writes.
Here she illuminates a tendency to (literally and figuratively) “fly over” these sites of extraordinary history and natural beauty, not taking the necessary time to truly appreciate them.
“We spent two weeks in the Grand Gulch region,” Morrison said. “When you’re there and you’re walking and you’re seeing and being instructed in the beauty of it and the age of it—it’s something you can’t capture in a day trip. If you’re driving or flying, it all goes out of your head too fast. The great benefit of those two weeks was the fact we could spend so much time there and be immersed in it.”
Of course, if traveling is not an option at the moment, “The Magical Universe of the Ancients” offers the next best thing. Weston’s musings transplant the reader to the desert and, at times, deep into the past. Morrison’s photos are constructed with care, insight, restraint and a refined artistic eye.
Though the book’s content is intrinsically tied to a specific location, its message is applicable all around the world where cultural sites and natural wonders are in jeopardy. Weston and Morrison said they hope local readers will be inspired to take another look at the beauty that surrounds them every day, and make protecting that beauty a priority.
Weston and Morrison will deliver a virtual presentation for The Community Library on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. Anyone can view the program live for free via the library’s Livestream page. Visit www.comlib.org/event/magical-universe to learn more and register.