"One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.” — Wallace Stegner

About the Land Desk

This is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. Geographic ground zero for Land Desk coverage is the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. Coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public land states” of the Interior West.

Twice weekly dispatches include news, commentary, fact-checks, myth-busting, essays, photos, and data-visualizations focusing on public lands, water, stolen and colonized lands, climate, politics, economics, environmental justice, energy, resource exploitation, and the people who are trying to make that scenery-matching society (and some who aren’t). Most importantly, I’ll be putting the current news into context—historical, geographical, geological, political, cultural—in an attempt to better understand how we got here and where the region should go now.

What do I get if I sign up?

I send out two Land Desk e-mail dispatches per week, at least, to both paid and unpaid subscribers. These may include may include (at the bare minimum):

  • Dispatches from the Land (news, perspective, essay, reporter’s notebook, and even occasional long-read and investigative pieces).

  • Data Dumps (ranging from a few statistics concerning current events to a full-blown data-story like the ones I have been doing for High Country News).

  • Quick Takes (A quick look at some of the most important stories from the awesome journalists covering the region).

  • Mining Monitor, Aridification Watch, Messing with Maps, Random Real Estate Room, and more.

  • Foto Fridays, Used-To-Be Game, Crossword puzzles (A visual break from news and doom-scrolling).

Sign up for a paid subscription for only $6 per month. Or go for the whole year and get two months free! ($60 per year). I mean, what can you get these days for just $6 a month? Not a heck of a lot. In addition to the warm fuzzy feeling one gets for supporting journalism, paid subscribers will also get:

  • Exclusive access to the Land Desk archives (everything older than 30 days goes behind the paywall). This includes nearly 400 dispatches that offer valuable context to current news.

  • Exclusive access to the Land Desk Primers. This is a new feature in 2024, and includes easy-to-understand explainers of issues ranging from coalbed methane development to the difference between blue, pink, and green hydrogen, to an anatomy of an avalanche.

  • Sneak Previews of Jonathan P. Thompson novels, in serialized form.

Maybe you’re looking for a noble way to spend that stimulus check? Become a Founding Member of the Land Desk by ponying up $100 or more and receive all the bennies of a paid subscriber, my undying gratitude, plus a Land Desk t-shirt or tote bag and a signed copy of my book of your choice: Sagebrush Empire, River of Lost Souls, or Behind the Slickrock Curtain.

Other Business:

  • If you signed up for the Land Desk but aren’t receiving the newsletter (it usually arrives on Tuesday and Friday mornings, with some variation), please check out this link.

  • If you want to cancel your paid subscription (noooo!) or make sure you’re not signed up for auto renewal, Substack can help you with that. Or you can contact me, Jonathan: landdesk@substack.com or jonathanthompson70@gmail.com and we can send you a prorated refund.

  • If you want to change your payment method or the email associated with your account or other account-level information, you’ll have to go to your Substack account and make the changes there (Substack authors don’t have access to that information).

  • CONTACT the Land Desk: landdesk@substack.com or jonathanthompson70@gmail.com

Join the Land Desk community

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Reprints and freelancing

I am available for freelance and contract writing and editing, and the pieces you see here are available for reprint (and I will happily customize them to your needs). Contact me for pricing and other details: jonathan@riveroflostsouls.com

About Jonathan

I’ve been writing about the lands, cultures, and communities of the Western U.S. and the Four Corners Country—my homeland—for, well, a long time. My journalism career kicked off back in the 1980s when I was the editor of the Durango High School newspaper. After college and working at a seed factory and as a bike mechanic, I became the sole reporter/photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner. Later, following a three-year stint as an artisan baker, I launched the Silverton/San Juan Mountain Journal with my wife, Wendy, then purchased and edited and published the Silverton Standard & the Miner for several years.

I began my affiliation with High Country News in 2006, serving as associate editor, editor-in-chief, senior editor and, finally, contributing editor, a role in which I continue today. During that time I have written dozens of cover stories and countless perspective pieces, data-visualizations, and shorter news articles.

I write books, too, including: River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Spill (Torrey House Press 2018); Behind the Slickrock Curtain (Lost Souls Press, 2020); and Sagebrush Empire: Journey into the heart of the public land wars (Torrey House, 2021).

Learn more about me and my work.

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Western lands and communities--in context.


Writer, editor, runner, roamer, author of River of Lost Souls, Sagebrush Empire and Behind the Slickrock Curtain.