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Book review: Author looks into disappearance of explorer in Utah

By Stephanie Abney

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 16 2011 3:35 p.m. MDT

David Roberts, the author of "Find Everett Ruess," on assignment at Smith Rock, Ore. He will be in Salt Lake City July 21 at the King's English Bookshop for a book signing.

Dawn Kish

"FINDING EVERETT RUESS: The Remarkable Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer," by David Roberts, Broadway Books, $25, 304 pages (nf)

Born into an unconventional family, Everett Ruess was raised to follow his heart at all costs. History and adventure author David Roberts explores the high price Ruess paid to seek out the best that nature had to offer in his new book, “Finding Everett Ruess: The Remarkable Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer.”

Roberts presents his extensive research in three parts: Ruess' youth; Ruess' disappearance until the present day, and Roberts' journey to find answers. Part 1 examines Ruess’ youth and family relationships. He highlights the many artistic accomplishments Ruess achieved at an early age. Both Ruess and his older brother Waldo were taught to embrace the family motto: “Glorify the Hour.” Their father was a Harvard-educated Unitarian minister who frequently moved his family around and took on additional jobs to support them. Their mother was a dancer and artist. All four family members were very prolific, producing watercolors and poetry, journals and stories. These were bound together in a home-published collection called “Ruess Quartette.”

Ruess graduated from Hollywood High School at 16 and chose adventure over college. He set out on his own to discover the southwest. He sent frequent letters home and recorded his experiences in a diary that reads like a work of literature. Ruess captured what he saw in watercolors and woodcuts, which he traded for goods. He never felt he was called to lead a typical life, “I don’t think I could ever settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.”

For four years Ruess explored the region. He was last seen in Escalante, Utah, in 1933. He headed out into the wilderness one day and never returned. He was 20 years old.

Part 2 covers the time period from Ruess’ disappearance to the present day. When they had not heard from their son in over four months, Ruess’ parents set out to find him, enlisting as much help as they could along the way. Over time numerous scenarios and theories emerged. The fascination Ruess’ disappearance holds for some people is akin to cult worship. Roberts takes each account apart until he decides to jump in, hence, Part 3.

The last section of the book details Roberts’ quest to unravel the puzzle that is Everett Ruess beginning in the late 1980s. A new discovery, the help of Ruess’s descendants and advanced DNA testing provide new perspectives on this unsolved mystery.

IF YOU GO ...

What: David Roberts book signing

When: Thursday, July 21, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Stephanie Abney, a retired teacher and freelance writer, lives in Mesa, Ariz., with her husband Jim. Her email is sabneyfeedback@cox.net and she blogs at stephaniesaysso.blogspot.com and stephaniereadthat.blogspot.com.

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