By Philip Connors (Cinco Puntos Press, 2018)
In May 2014, a fire in the Gila National Forest indirectly claimed the lives of three promising young people, an admired psychiatrist, and one of the trusty fire spotters who spend long summer days in their remote towers. Philip Connors, himself a fire spotter and an occasional writer for New Mexico Magazine, grieved their losses in the most beautiful way he could, writing his pain, anger, and wonder onto the page. A Song for the River blends a poetic voice with a naturalist’s knowledge and a journalist’s determination to document continued threats to the Gila River and its massive surrounding acreage, which became the nation’s original wilderness area in 1924.

As Connors makes clear, the rugged region can kill people—but also repair them. “For more than a decade,” he writes, “I had kept watch over those mountains and found the experience a two-hearted deal, living amid calamity and resilience. In the beginning I simply wished to remove myself from human company. I had my reasons, not at all unusual. But I kept returning for the communion of creatures that made my mountain hum, a beautiful Babylon of owls hooting and nutcrackers jeering and hermit thrushes singing their small and lovely whisper song.”

Connors details how, battered by health ailments as his marriage dissolves, he hit bottom. The healing ministrations of a woman led him back to the fire tower and into a new romance. His tender incarnations of the people who died tragically pull the reader into a shared sense of loss.

Connors’ 2011 book Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout won the acclaimed Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, among others. With A Song for the River, he secures a spot on the same bookshelf as Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold.

By Tamara Masong (UNM Press, 2018)
Retired hydrologist Tamara Massong loves the outdoors, especially small streams and tight canyons. She finds those and more all along the western face of the Sandía Mountains—the side you see from Albuquerque. 60 Short Hikes in the Sandia Foothills provides the perfect starting point for newcomers or those interested in a quick after-work amble. Massong even suggests ways to combine the various paths into 240-some pages of routes, with a little something for any fitness level.

The Spring Creek Trail, for example, offers a less-than-an-hour trip to the little-known ruins of the Jaral Ranger Cabin. The more ambitious five-mile Pino Trail rises through a surprisingly dense forest, with the option of two-and-a-half more strenuous miles up to the crest. Throughout, Massong gives clear instructions on mileage, parking, trail conditions, weather, snakes, mine safety, geologic zones, and other knapsack know-how.

How To Eat, Stay, Play, And Shoot Like A Pro
By Rick and Susan Sammon (Countryman Press, 2018)

Authors and photographers continue to find new things to say about the Mother Road, including Rick and Susan Sammon, who combine bits of seasoned travel info with tips on upping your photo game. The Route 66 Photo Road Trip teaches you how to compose the perfect shot of the Blue Swallow Motel’s classic neon signage, in Tucumcari, hang out at the Route 66 Auto Museum, in Santa Rosa, and clamber on top of your car for a stirring train shot in Gallup.

Rick’s advice to newbie SLR shooters is welcome—especially HDR imaging, framing, and staging a scene. Susan’s smartphone tips rely a tad too heavily on apps, but her finished products speak volumes.

Readers can dig elsewhere to find broader lists of places to eat and stay, but you can’t beat the Sammons’ enthusiasm for Route 66. This quick read will leave you itching to take their best piece of advice: Hit the road and get shooting. Want to map out your own Route 66 kicks? Get inspired at newmexico.org/route66.