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Southwest Circle Quest by Brett LeCompte

Review by Ken Wright

Southwest – May 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Southwest Circle Quest: A Walkabout in the American Outback
by Brett LeCompte
Published in 1998 by Canyon Country Publications
ISBN 0-925685-34-8

WHEN I STARTED reading Southwest Circle Quest: A Walkabout in the American Outback, I was soon biting my lip. It wasn’t tension; it’s just that there’s something about white guys talking about “vision quests” and sitting in medicine circles that makes me nervous. Fortunately I pushed on, for once past those opening pages I found myself immersed in a loving and richly rendered travelogue of an admirable, if not enviable, journey.

In 1990, Mancos resident Brett LeCompte was wondering what to do with his life. To help himself on his search for answers, he concocted a wild plan: to walk a grand circle around the Four Corners area. In 1991, over four months and across 1,400 miles, he realized that dream, walking from Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, to Mount Taylor in New Mexico, through the San Juans, then across Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon (in August, no less), and back to his starting point.

One of the results of that walk is this book, a day-by-day recounting of his voyage. It was an epic venture, no doubt, but still LeCompte’s tale is not the adrenaline-overdose stuff of Outside magazine. Although a four-month hike is nothing to shake a walking stick at, there is little real danger or far-flung adventure here; mostly this is a story of a loving, body-and-spirit immersion in a grand landscape consummated by a great and simple act of devotion. Along the way, LeCompte finds mostly stunning countryside inhabited by a variety of friendly and kind people, from Zuni softball players, to German kayakers, to local ranchers and fellow walkers.

Despite its spiritual opening, LeCompte thankfully refrains from preachiness once his trek is underway since vision quests are by definition deeply personal and difficult to render for an audience. The text instead is mostly straight travelogue, sometimes too painstaking in its detail but overall crisp, lively, and vivid in its telling. If there is a weakness, it is that the prose is a bit purple at times, but we can forgive LeCompte occasional lapses into excess since this landscape inspires rhapsody in most who try to translate it into language.

Southwest Circle Quest should be popular with tourists driving the Golden Circle in their RVs and loaded station wagons, but it should also be read by those residents as a chance to appreciate our great region for the mostly still-undeveloped — and mostly public — landscape it still is. Even those of us who are lucky enough to live here tend to get locked into our individual busy-ness and forget the amazing landscape that keeps us here.

Thanks to LeCompte’s efforts, though, both by foot and by pen, we can at least vicariously take part in a quest for a sense of this place.

— Ken Wright