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FROG MOUNTAIN BLUES by Charles Bowden, photographs by Jack W. Dykinga (University of Arizona: $19.95; 165 pp., illustrated).

July 05, 1987|Don Campbell

Sprawling and brooding, the Santa Catalina Mountains are the dramatic northern backdrop for what would otherwise be just one more booming desert city, Tucson, Ariz.

But, with such a backdrop, no city can be considered "just one more" anything. And in the tongue of the Papago tribe, the range's highest peak translates as "Frog Mountain." Into the rugged Santa Catalina canyons, writer Charles Bowden and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Jack Dykinga embark not so much on a naturalists' field trip--although there's much of that in Dykinga's brilliant camera work--but on an unabashed love ritual . . . a lyrical tribute to the beauty of the range and to the colorful characters in the past who fell under its spell. And through it all, in Bowden's artful narrative, there is also a note of sadness in that future odysseys like this may never be possible again.

The proximity to a city of 500,000 souls is nibbling at the rugged underbelly of the stoic Santa Catalinas . . . subdivisions, shopping centers, summer resorts and off-road bikers are all sprawling, slowly but inevitably, up the once-impregnable canyons and roadways. These are Frog Mountain's "blues."

This is a beautifully written, handsomely illustrated love poem to a mountain range that has the fatal curse of being not merely too awesome in its beauty for its own good but, worse, too accessible to man.

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