Wilkinson College English professor Tom Zoellner (whose Island on Fire: The Revolt that Ended Slavery in the British Empire won the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for the best nonfiction book) recently published Rim to River: Looking into the Heart of Arizona – a story about his 46-day journey hiking through the redrock country in fall 2019.
The Arizona Trail is a 790-mile continuous walking path across the state from Utah to Sonora. Zoellner slept outside almost every night and drank from natural springs, rivers and cattle troughs. He lost nearly 30 pounds, “and grew a full beard doing this,” he said. He used his trek as a jumping off point for researching and writing stories about the history and culture of his home state, Arizona.
“The journey is only about 30 percent of the narrative, which is used as a device that links seventeen essays in the book trying to get to the core of Arizona,” he said.
Zoellner covers copper mining, political culture, water, wildfires, border crossing, Latino voting, food, music, the history of violence, Native spirituality, retirement communities, and so much more.
Zoellner grew up in Arizona, was educated there, worked at the state’s largest newspaper, and has lived in five of its cities. His family has lived there since before it was admitted to the Union in 1912. He thought he knew everything there was to know about the desert state, but that wasn’t the case.
“I found that Arizona is worse than I thought it was, but also so much better than I dreamed. And that water is a profoundly important substance,” he said. “Worse in terms of the political dysfunction, official corruption, climate emergencies and thoughtless development, and better in terms of magnificent topography, intriguing people, durability of spirit and adaptability in times of trouble.”
The book was published by University of Arizona Press and is now available on Amazon.
(Photos courtesy of Tom Zoellner)