Book Review | Jon Fuller’s ‘Verde River Elegy: A Paddling Journey to the River’s End’

Jon Fuller’s Verde River Elegy chronicles my kind of trip. Quirky, even gnarly, quixotic as all get out. His top-to-bottom ‘float’ of the defiled Verde River, in central Arizona, is a combination of memorial, humor, mile-by-mile log, and how-to guide wrapped in one. This isn’t really a floater’s guide, despite the detailed description of his route and experience, because few people will want to take it on. Not because the Verde isn’t deserving, mind you. It is a lovely desert river covering almost 200 miles of canyon, pool, and riffle from north of Prescott to the confluence with the Salt River. It is full of otters and bald eagles and other wildlife. It is replete with history, full of surprises and scenic as hell.

The problem is that it is dying, and we are responsible for killing it. Its demise is Fuller’s driving motivation. In his book he brings this year-round watershed back to life, despite the diversions, withdrawals, and depletion visited by humanity. Once a rare and beautiful channel running through the arid high desert, the Verde now, where Fuller began his two-week, fall sojourn, is little more than puddles connected by unnavigable trickles. He dragged and portaged and thrashed through days of desiccated channel to finally reach a flow that would float his canoe.

From there he descended through sandstone canyon, past historic ranches, through still-lovely habitat. The river is the very resource humanity requires to exist, and yet it has been so trashed, abused and shrunken that it barely qualifies as a flow much of the year.

Fuller takes us along with self-deprecating humor, with honesty, with sadness and anger. His account features blunders and mishaps as well as insights and regional context. His anger and sadness we should all share, because we have similar flows near our homes. I know I do. If you look close enough, you’ll find yours.

Fuller’s book is a worthy read for its simplicity, its message and for the example it sets; the quest of a man paying attention to his home and then paying homage when required. Read it, and then go find your own sacred, doomed river to paddle.

Verde River Elegy: A Paddling Journey to the River’s End, Jon Fuller, Vishnu Temple Press,; $24.95.

C&K’s 2018 Reading Guide

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