Hillerman Country
A Journey through the Southwest
with Tony Hillerman
photographs by Barney Hillerman
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

HarperCollins: New York, 1991

240 pages November 2008

  

Hillerman Country is a large-format book of photography of the desert landscape of the American Southwest, centered a little south of the Four Corners where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet.

The beautiful photographs by Barney Hillerman are well-chosen and well-composed, representative of the variety in this wild open geography.

The text by Tony Hillerman discusses the nature of the land, often harsh and bare but on closer acquaintance, subtly fascinating and full of lovely shadings of the stubborn rocks and sand, and the determined plants and animals and people who thrive here. While Hillerman Country isn't intended as ethnography or history or ecology, there are plenty of neat observations by Hillerman in all these areas. He recalls to mind other writers who fell in love with this land, Conrad Richter and D. H. Lawrence.
  

After an Introduction, the Hillermans' sections include:

  • The Dineh and the Turquoise Mountain
  • Chaco Canyon: Ancestors of our Enemies
  • Canyon de Chelly
  • The San Juan: Cut-Stone Country
  • The High Country
  • Remembered Places

A vast range of beautiful places. Here's Tony Hillerman describing one:

White Sands National Monument ... has a special appeal for me in the winter. I remember it as I first saw it — a February night in 1953. I had driven down the Tularosa Basin, with the snowcapped Sacramentos looming to the east, and to the west mile after mile of tumbled lava — the outpouring of volcanic vents north of the village of Carrizozo. The map shows three communities in the fifty-five miles between Carrizozo and Alamogordo, the first being Oscuro.

I'd stop there and take a break. But Oscuro proved to be an unoccupied house beside the railroad track. I would stop, instead, at Three Rivers.

But Three Rivers was also a single building, a service station closed for the day. A sign there pointed up a dirt road toward a recreational area. I followed it.

It led eastward to what has now been declared the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreational Site. Even before official federal recognition it was an impressive place — an upthrust of magma-formed grassy ridges, topped with great black boulders. The highest ridge provides a superb lookout spot for anyone wanting a broad view of the basin. Stone Age hunters had used it as a campsite for their hunts. While waiting for game they chipped into the basalt hundreds of shapes — representations of reptiles, animals, spirits, and men in styles that suggest Klee and Picasso, geometric forms, symbols, even what seem to be pure abstractions. As I remember it was on this ridge that I first noticed White Sands.

Far to the southeast between me and the Organ Mountains was a long, white line shimmering in the late afternoon sun.
  

Hillerman Country can be read as a generally illustrative companion volume to Tony Hillerman's fine mysteries set in this area. Although it has some quotations from the novels, it is primarily a book of photographs and secondarily about the land and its peoples. It is not a novel-readers' series guidebook with maps and story background, like C. S. Forester's The Hornblower Companion or Louis L'Amour's The Sackett Companion.

That said, this is a lovely and informative book.

  

© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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