Best Books about Wild People Doing Wild Things in Wild Places

I was asked by Ben at, a fabulous new website that helps people search for books on subjects they love by people who’ve read and written in those realms, to create a blog entry. You can access the whole thing at, but here’s a sampling.

Who am I?

I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve always wanted to play outside. Bringing the two together started in childhood, climbing redwoods and scribbling fantasies, and grew from there, eventually morphing into a career as an award-winning writer of outdoor adventure guidebooks and essays about national parks. Of course, writing requires reading, and to hone my craft I’ve devoured a library of outdoor literature, journeying with John Muir in Yosemite, Mallory and Irvine on Everest, and Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail. If someone’s doing a wild thing in a wild place, I want to read all about it—and then I want to head outside and get a little wild myself.

I wrote…

Search and Rescue Alaska

By Tracy Salcedo

Search and Rescue Alaska

What is my book about?

In a place as vast and extreme as Alaska, no one takes safety for granted. Whether adventurer or homesteader, tourist or native, people look out for themselves and for each other. But sometimes it just goes bad, and no amount of resourcefulness or resiliency can make it right. That’s when search and rescue teams kick into gear, launching operations that have generated amazing tales of heroism, tenacity, and human kindness. 

The essays collected in Search and Rescue Alaska describe rescues on Denali, North America’s highest peak, a World War II self-rescue that ended with a remarkable recovery more than half a century later, the travails of Klondike-bound gold-seekers caught in an avalanche on the infamous Chilkoot Trail, and more. These stories will both entertain and kindle a new appreciation for the skilled and selfless pilots, troopers, military personnel, and rangers on call for search and rescue in Alaska.

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The Books I Picked & Why

My Life of High Adventure

By Grant Pearson, Philip Newill

My Life of High Adventure

Why this book?

Grant Pearson was the superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park, now Denali National Park and Preserve, in the mid-twentieth century, and was part of the Lindley-Liek Expedition, which made the remarkable second ascent of the peak in 1932 – one that included a search and recovery. He tells that story, as well as many others, in this humble, humorous, and illuminating autobiography. His passion for Denali’s wilderness, and for adventuring, is compelling. 

We Remember You: Notes from the Eldridge Cemetery

Unless you read the signs, you might not know it’s there. The Eldridge Cemetery, stretching from Orchard Road down to the broom-choked banks of Mill Creek on the former Sonoma Developmental Center campus, resembles parkland more than a burial ground. Its wrought-iron gates appear to open onto nothing more than a gentle, grassy slope, scattered heritage oaks dripping lace lichens, and stunning vistas of Sonoma Mountain’s summit ridge. A plaque affixed to one of the gate’s stonework pillars and a free-standing rusty metal sign name the place. 

“We remember you” reads the inscription.

A little guardian angel watches over the grounds, head gently bowed, wings gently folded. She sits in the shade of some old oaks just uphill from the gate. One of the trees has listed, its limbs resting in the embrace of a sister oak that offers steady support, for now. It’s hard to know how long the embrace will last, given how precarious it appears, and the angel looks like she’ll be crushed if the tree falls. But walk down to the sunken vault where the cremains are interred, and you’ll see she’s perched between where the twin trunks will land. It’ll be a narrow miss.

The angel knows what the earth holds here. So does history. Thousands of people who lived in Eldridge—in the institution that started in 1891 as a home for “feeble-minded” children and ended in 2018 as the SDC—are buried here. An astonishing map details where they were laid to rest, tightly packed in long rows stretching from roadside to creekbank. Numbered concrete blocks mark each end of these rows, and a low stone wall forms a boundary along the road, both remnants of the cemetery’s historical hardscape. A photo from 1941 shows headstones at some of the gravesites, but these have long since disappeared, as have the flowers and keepsakes left by the living for the beloved departed. 

To those not in the know, the Eldridge Cemetery may appear stuck in the same quiet, increasingly ramshackle limbo as the neighboring campus. But it’s not. Instead, the cemetery is a place where Eldridge’s story pivots toward something hopeful, not just for the burial grounds, but also for the campus and surrounding open spaces.

The transformation of Eldridge—envisioning how 900-plus coveted acres can be used now that the developmental center is gone—is taking place on many fronts. Folks are working to ensure its open spaces are conserved, on a specific plan to guide campus redevelopment, on a historic district, on proposals for housing and trails and more. Work on the cemetery memorial project has mostly flown under the radar, but achieved a remarkable milestone in recent weeks. The state of California, the proverbial wheel to which all shoulders must be applied before anything can happen on the property, has bestowed its blessing on plans to erect a memorial at the site. Funding is earmarked. Surveyors have been contracted. Work is slated to begin this month. 

Even as pandemic and bureaucracy slows progress on so many plans for Eldridge, this one moves ahead.

The memorial project has been many months in the making, with months of work to go. Community members dedicated to the work include Kathleen Miller, whose son was an SDC resident; Christian Pease, the photographer behind the Eldridge Portrait Project; Kathy Speas, the SDC’s former chaplain; the Glen Ellen Historical Society’s Angela Nardo-Morgan; and many others. They’ve worked tirelessly with champions at the state level, including John Doyle, the now-retired chief deputy director of California’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS); his successor, Carla Castaneda; and Gerald McLaughlin of the Department of General Services (DGS). On the ground at Eldridge, Charlotte Jones, SDC facilities manager (also retired); Valerie Dunn, who took Charlotte’s place; and public information officer JJ Fernandez, have also been integral to the effort. Many months of meetings, site visits, e-mails, phone calls, more e-mails, more site visits, more meetings—and the wheel turned.

The cemetery group has collaboratively developed a conceptual design for the memorial that both preserves the cemetery’s viewscapes and honors all of Eldridge’s dead by name. It turns out administrators of the institution, in all its incarnations, kept records of those interred on the grounds, as well as those buried off-campus, some in Sonoma’s Mountain Cemetery, some in a cemetery in Sebastopol. A map of the rows and graves, and a brief history of the home and hospital, are also part of the plan. 

Across Orchard Road from the cemetery proper, survey work will define an area to ensure ADA-compliant accessibility for visitors, and outline a site where informal memorial markers and artifacts can be displayed. These small monuments—more than fifty placed by families, friends, and staff over the decades—have been carefully gathered from the campus and cataloged as part of the project. 

Once survey work is complete and design details have been fine-tuned, the project will be formally presented to the community. The group knows well how crucial that step is. Proposed improvements may cost more than the state has pledged, and the grounds will require upkeep once the state steps away. Dollars and sweat equity are something local residents can help provide.

I love to walk in graveyards, and always have. Cemeteries are peaceful and grounding in my experience; I’ve always felt the dead welcome visits from the living. The first time I realized Eldridge had a cemetery was probably twenty years ago, when I spotted the guardian angel. I went right down to sit with her a spell. 

As time went on and I became a chronic walker of Orchard Road, I would sometimes break away from the pavement to ramble in the grass, communing as best I knew how with the people resting there. One year, as the season bent toward late summer, I noticed cracks in the slope’s adobe soils, miniature crevasses splintering the earth glacier. I stepped over them quickly, afraid to peer in, afraid I’d spy bones or the splintering wood of a decades-old casket. Quick prayers, a light step, asking for forgiveness if my passage was disrespectful. 

Now that I know how dense the burials are, when I come to visit I keep to the edges. I also hold with care the idea that the graves may be sliding—or have already slid—down toward the creek. Sliding graves are an odd thing to consider, but as disrespectful as walking on graves feels to me, it feels right to imagine that, as they subside, the dead have started to share embraces, like the oaks arcing over the guardian angel. Arm in arm, sharing eternity for as long as it lasts in this beautiful place. 

How nice it will be to know their names.

We remember you.

In Praise of Pavement

Paved trails get a bad rap. Hiking snobs dismiss the paved route as a walking path for wimps.

I’m not that picky. If I have a choice, I’ll usually head out on the dirt, but I love a good paved trail and I’ve walked on plenty. I also hold this perspective close: Most ADA-accessible trails are built using pavement or crushed gravel. They are generally flat, short, and smooth, but what the traveler experiences is not diminished by the composition of the treadway. You don’t have to wear the fancy shoes with the lug soles; you don’t have to worry about burrs in your socks or boot-sucking mud or twisting your ankle in the divot left by the horsehoof. Anyone can go: Grandpa with his stuttering walk, Grandma with her walker; the baby in their stroller, the friend in their wheelchair.

Thinking this way, every path is a trail. Thinking this way, the paved trail saved hiking this year, even for snobs.

When the first shelter-in-place order was issued a year go, the parks closed. All of them. My initial response was panic. I lasted about two days, pacing circles in my yard. I’d always thought all I needed to maintain my mental health was to be outside. The pandemic taught me otherwise. I needed mileage.

Then, the blessing that is my son’s dog became even more apparent. Pandemic rules permitted us to leave the premises to walk the dog. I could walk the dog! So what if Mugi wasn’t mine: Any port in a storm. And the need to walk the dog was real—if she didn’t get her exercise, she would zoomie the house to smithereens.

Like so many of my neighbors, I took to the streets. Who knew it took three masked people, walking abreast in a phalanx, to walk a dog? We swept around each other like the wings of birds, sometimes stilling on opposite sides of the road when we recognized each other. We pounded the pavement for miles to see each other, and to let the wind wash pandemic and political doom from our heavy minds.

We are lucky here in Glen Ellen and Kenwood; we have beautiful streets. Without cars on them, they are even more beautiful. But streets are for cars, and as pandemic restrictions and fears lift, traffic will increase. Hiking on pavement will become less attractive; walkers will be driven back to the dirt. No complaints though, because dirt is normal, and we all need normal.

But I cherish the peace I’ve found hiking the double yellow line on London Ranch Road. It became the town’s stairmaster last March, so dubbed by Jack London State Historic Park’s executive director. Given a hefty lead, Mugi can range from verge to verge if I stick to the middle, walking a good four miles for my two. She has smelled the seasons change and I have watched them, from springtime wildflower blooms to the autumnal turning of the grapevines at Benziger to the blooming of moss on tree trunks with the first winter rain. 

Usually, we ramble up to the park’s kiosk and back, taking in the views and the pee-mail. Usually we make way for a car or two, or more, as we walk. But the other evening, we made it all the way up the hill without meeting a soul. Standing at the kiosk in the golden hour, with the sunlight long on the earth, I couldn’t turn back. I decided to take Mugi down the paved trail to the Wolf House. 

And the paved trail got magical.

In most state parks dogs are not allowed on trails, but the route to the Wolf House is an exception. The trail begins in a thicket of eucalytptus, now beautifully restored by park staff to mitigate wildfire danger. Their work has illuminated the fact that these trees were imported as a crop and planted in orderly rows, with the intent to harvest and make lumber or furniture. The wood proved lousy for both purposes, but grew into a sturdy windbreak and, as time went on, a significant fire hazard.

As we’d been on London Ranch, Mugi and I were alone on the trail. We walked down past the vineyards, glowing in the last of the daylight. We walked down through the hollow, where the no name stream ran with just enough water to babble and the ferns grew thick on the embankment. We climbed past the trail to Jack and Charmian’s gravesite, rising into sunshine in the greening meadow before making the final descent to the Wolf House ruins.We made a slow circle around the house, walking slowly, quietly. The crowns of the redwoods were bright, and the sun shot a final burst of brightness through the stone windowframes before it dropped behind the shoulder of Sonoma Mountain.

Then we headed home, still alone in the gloaming. Back through the patch of meadow, back through the hollow, to the junction with the dirt trail that leads up to the House of Happy Walls. I clutched at a memory that this path was also dog-legal; I balked at the thought of leaving the pavement. But only for a moment. I’m a dirt girl at heart. As we climbed the narrow track toward the House of Happy Walls, I swallowed a bug. This, I thought, is my punishment for breaking the rules. Then the trail surface changed to weathered asphalt, and I exhaled my guilt. I was right; dogs were allowed. The bug was just a protein supplement. Every hiking snob knows that.