NOBA Medallion

Winners of the 2020
National Outdoor Book Awards











 Natural History Literature

Book of EelsWinner. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World.  By Patrik Svensson.  Ecco / HarperCollins, New York.  ISBN 9780062968814

Patrik Svensson's Book of Eels is natural history writing at its finest.  It only takes a few pages, and Svensson draws you in, delivering a graceful and moving account of these elusive and mysterious creatures.  Ever so gradually, he pieces together humankind's quest for knowledge about eels, a quest that, interestingly enough, starts with Aristotle.  Parts are also played by Sigmund Freud and Rachel Carson, but the star of the show is Johannes Schmidt who spends much of his life searching the world's oceans to find where European eels are birthed.  Part marine biology, part historical drama, and part personal narrative, The Book of Eels is an extraordinary achievement.


 History / Biography  

World Beneath Their FeetWinner. The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering Madness and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas.  By Scott Ellsworth.  Little, Brown and Company, New York.  ISBN 9780316434867

Scott Ellsworth combines solid research, and a touch of panache, in this work on mountaineering history from 1930 to 1953.  What separates this book from many other climbing histories is that Ellsworth approaches mountaineering from a cultural and political perspective.  The British, aware that the days of their great empire were numbered, sought to bolster national pride by attempting to climb the world's highest peaks.  So, too, are the newly empowered Nazis, but they also look to the Himalayas as a proving ground for the superiority of the Aryan master race.  And the Americans?  They were a motley lot of Ivy League college buddies, itching to be a player in this high stakes game.  There's plenty to sink your teeth into, and plenty of new insights, in this absorbing and eminently readable book.


Labyrinth of IceWinner.  Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition. By Buddy Levy.  St. Martin's Press, New York.  ISBN 9781250182197

The Greely Expedition is perhaps one of the most harrowing expeditions in polar history.  A. W. Greely, an American army lieutenant, set out to reach the farthest north yet achieved by any human.  He was successful in that effort, but it is the return journey for which the expedition is known.  A resupply ship is blocked by ice from reaching the party, and what follows is Greely and his men's desperate attempt to escape from the frozen north.  Based on exhaustive research, this is an epic tale told with finesse and intelligence.

 Outdoor Literature

Dragons in the SnowWinner. Dragons in the Snow:  Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains.  By Edward Power.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512960

Imagine that you're on a backcountry snowboard outing.  The snow is epic:  deep, powdery and, oh, so luring.  Suddenly, there is an avalanche and you are caught in a moving mass of snow hurtling down a mountainside.  Told in a captivating, novelistic style, Edward Power's lead story in Dragons in the Snow places you at the scene of an accident.  An accurate re-telling of the event, he effectively uses it to introduce a selection of backcountry guides and avalanche professionals who must deal with the vagaries of snow.  It's an exceptionally well done book, one that holds your interest while at the same time, offering important, and possibly life saving, lessons on avalanche safety.


The Only KayakWinner. The Only Kayak:  A Journey Into the Heart of Alaska. By Kim Heacox.  Lyons Press, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493049400

In this elegant and moving memoir, Kim Heacox writes of his years living and working in Glacier Bay.  It is about paddling trips with friends, intimate encounters with wildlife, his work as a ranger, and excursions with an engaging young woman who, as it happens, becomes his life partner.  Through it all, he wrestles with the questions that plague all conscientious outdoor users: the never ceasing encroachment of untrammeled spaces, our relationship with the wild, and our relationship with one another.  He often draws from thinkers, explorers, philosophers, and environmental writers of the past.  This is a thoughtful and penetrating work of outdoor literature that clearly ranks among Alaska's finest.

 Design & Artistic Merit

Beaty and the BeastWinner.  Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.  By Rob Badger and Nita Winter.  WinterBadger Press and California Native Plant Society, Sausalito and Sacramento, CA.  ISBN 9781733104401

The first part of this large format book is entitled "The gift of Beauty."  It's referring to wildflowers, of course, but it is also an apt characterization of the book itself.  It is truly a gift, a gift of artistic beauty that would grace anyone's home.  From wide view photographs of vast fields of color to intricate close-ups of individual flower species, it is a book of wonder and a celebratory feast for the eyes.  Complementing the photographic artistry are 18 essays which help deliver a message of what has been—and will be—lost in the natural world if global warming continues unchecked.

 Children's Category

Nature Play WorkshopWinner.  Nature Play Workshop for Families: A Guide to 40+ Outdoor Learning Experiences in All Seasons.  By Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan.  Quarry Books, Beverly, MA.  ISBN 9781631598685

With years of experience in teaching children, Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan couldn't have formed a better partnership for this book.  While children will enjoy the bright, colorful photos and graphics, it's primarily oriented to adults: parents, youth leaders and teachers.  Using an extraordinary practical approach, the co-authors provide innovative ways to entice children away from the indoors and into the outdoors.  Their secret?  Play.  Children love to play, and if you get them playing outdoors, they naturally enjoy being there.  Intended for children in the 8 to 12 year range, it's a joy to use and is packed full of ideas to combine play and learning in the outdoors.

 Nature and the Environment

Secrets of SnakesWinner. Secrets of Snakes: The Science Beyond the Myths.  By David A. Steen.  Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX.  ISBN 9781623497972

What is impressive about this excellent primer on snakes is its clever organization.  It is divided up into a series of statements and/or questions, each lending themselves to short chapters:  Does the head of a snake reveal danger?  Are baby snakes more dangerous than adults?  Can you tell the age of a rattlesnake by its tail?  With the reader's interest thus engaged, author David Steen uses the opportunity to correct falsehoods and misconceptions about snakes, and then very effectively follows up by imparting information about snake ecology and biology.  It is enlightening without being overly academic, perfect for anyone who wants to learn about the fascinating world of snakes.


Great Mountain TrailsWinner.  America's Great Mountain Trails:  100 Highcountry Hikes of a Lifetime.  By Tim Palmer.  Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York.  ISBN 9780847865420.

You can always rely on Tim Palmer for keen observation and accurate descriptive writing.  In this new, large format book, he details 100 noteworthy trails in the United States, covering the mountainous areas of the East and West, along with Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  It's two books rolled into one.  It's a guidebook, yes, with information and practical hints on hiking the trails, but it's also an art portfolio, exhibiting Palmer's outstanding outdoor photography.

 Nature Guidebooks

Foraging South CaliforniaWinner.   Foraging Southern California: 118 Nutritious, Tasty and Abundant Foods.  By Douglas Kent.  Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN.  ISBN 9781591939153

Foraging Southern California is a terrific little guidebook on nature's edible goodies which easily slips into a pocket of your pack.  Foraging expert, Douglas Kent takes care of the important stuff first.  In the opening chapter, he pictures and describes the plants you want to stay away from:  those that are toxic or poisonous.  From there it is smooth sailing, setting the stage for a great day of foraging.   Each of the edibles include a large color photograph and descriptive information on habitat, leaves, flowers, harvest season and comparable species.


Peak NutritionWinner.  Peak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure.  By Maria Hines and Mercedes Pollmeier.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512052

"Wow" is the best way to summarize the judges' reaction to this exquisitely designed and illustrated book on outdoor nutrition.  What really notches up the wow factor is the great writing team of Mercedes Pollmeier and Maria Hines.  Pollmeier is a nutrition expert and a certified strength and conditioning coach.  She trains athletes from around the world.  Hines is a climber and a chef.  Food & Wine magazine included her in their list of “Best New Chefs” and the New York Times has featured her organic restaurant.  Combining their diverse talents, they add a little pazazz to trail cooking, helping you create meals that are both delicious and nutritious.  Try one of the recipes in this book and you, too, will be saying wow.  The best thing?  You'll never ever have to resort to a tasteless freeze dried dinner again.


Crack ClimbingHonorable Mention.  Crack Climbing: The Definitive Guide. By Pete Whittaker.  Illustrations by Alex Poyzer.  Mountaineers Books, Seattle.  ISBN 9781680512151.

If there's ever been a definitive guide devoted to one segment of climbing technique, this is exhibit number one.  Pete Whittaker is a world class crack climber and he leaves no stone unturned in this excellent instructional book.  What is crack climbing?  It is that aspect of the sport whereby you jam fingers, hands, or feet into cracks to move upward on a rock face.  Whittaker has organized the book by width of crack (finger, hand, offwidth, chimney).  Then, with excellent illustrations by Alex Poyzer, he describes a myriad of ways a climber can position fingers, hands, feet and body to tackle any crack that comes your way.


 Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks

Fly Fishing AustinWinner. Fly Fishing Austin and Central Texas.  By Aaron Reed.  Imbrifex Books, Las Vegas.  ISBN 9781945501241.

All you have to do is to read the introductory chapters to realize that Aaron Reed is the sort of guy who you wouldn't mind having as a fishing pal.  Fortunately, for most of us, his fly fishing guide allows you to do just that.  You can fish the same waters, grab a bite at a favorite eatery, and enjoy the same music.  Music?  Yessiree.  At the end of each chapter, Reed includes suggested music that you might enjoy on your fishing excursion.  This is Austin, Texas after all.  He covers more than 100 legal fishing accesses, most within 50 miles of Austin and others within a 90 mile radius.  Besides being a first rate writer, he's a darn good photographer, and his color photographs are the perfect supplement to this well designed and thoroughly useful guide.


Hiking LassenWinner.  Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park: A Guide to the Park's Greatest Hiking Adventures.  By Tracy Salcedo.  Falcon Guides, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493044047

It's always a pleasure to come across a guidebook writer who really knows her stuff—and Tracy Salcedo is certainly that and more.  She has been hiking the trails of Lassen for over 20 years, and her many days on those trails plainly show as she accurately guides you on the 50 trails highlighted in the book.  Everything you need is there: nicely rendered maps, color photos, difficulty ratings, mileage charts, and helpful advice from one who knows.



Official NOBA reviews prepared by Ron Watters.  Reviews are based on comments and insights provided by members of the judging panels.  A special thanks to Katherine Daly for her editorial work. 


End of Listing: 2020 National Outdoor Book Awards



Natalie Bartley, Boise, ID
Freelance outdoor writer/photographer/editor and certified Nordic ski instructor. Active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. Doctorate in Recreation and Leisure Services from University of Utah. Author of Best Easy Day Hikes Boise and Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Former river ranger, raft guide, ropes course manager, and university professor. Instructed at Hong Kong and Pacific Crest Outward Bound Schools.

Cort Conley, Boise, ID
Writer, editor, and publisher.  Author of several outdoor titles and an anthology of river poems.  Independent river guide since 1968.  Served as a judge for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Former Director of Literary Services for the Idaho Commission on the Arts. Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of California.

Val Cunningham, St. Paul, MN
Naturalist, freelance writer and editor, leads local bird hikes and conducts bird surveys for Audubon. Author of The Gardener's Hummingbird Book. Regular columnist for Outdoor News and Minneapolis StarTribune. Writes for local, regional and national nature and bird-oriented publications.

Louis Dzierzak, Minneapolis, MN
A full-time freelance writer focusing on the business side of outdoor recreation. Member of Outdoor Writers Association of America, Society of Environmental Journalists, and the American Society of Authors and Journalists.  Editor of the two-volume Boundary Waters Canoe Area guidebook. Currently writing a book about invasive carp for the University of Minnesota Press. 

Jim & Sara Fullerton, St. Petersburg, FL
Past president of the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.  Doctorate in Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.   Associate Professor for management and leadership development at the College of Coastal Georgia.  Twenty years experience as an outdoor adventure leader.  His wife Sara who assists with judging the children's category is a former elementary school teacher and has worked in a children's bookstore.

Dale Harrington, Boone, NC
Retired biology instructor at Caldwell Community College.  Naturalist.  Former trip leader for Appalachian State University. Avid mountaineer and hiker.

Rob Jones, Salt Lake City, UT
Director of the University of Utah Outdoor Adventures.  Former president Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.  Certified Utah river guide and Leave No Trace Master Educator.

Paul Kallmes, Berkeley, CA
Editor of Summit: The Photographs of Vittorio Sella, 1879-1909.  Organized a subsequent photographic exhibition of Sella's mountain photography.  Active climber for over 30 years.  Worked for 10 years at Mountainfilm in Telluride.

Rodney Ley, Fort Collins, CO
Emeritus Director, Outdoor Programs at Colorado State University.  Former outdoor columnist for Gannett newspapers.  Founder of a backcountry ski yurt system.  Former board member, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Kate Mapp, Heber City, UT
Adult Services Librarian at the Park City Library.  Former wilderness ranger and archaeologist for the US Forest Service.  Professional ski patroller for 8 years and past president of the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association.  Served as a judge for the Women Writing the West-Willa Book Awards.

John Miles, El Prado, NM
Former Dean and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, Huxley College, Western Washington University.  Author of six books, most recently Wilderness in National Parks: Playground or Preserve.  Currently researching books on national parks and the history of the youth conservation movement.

Jill Morgan, Cynthiana, KY
Publisher of Purple House Press specializing in classic children's books. Jill supervises book selection, layout, design and production. An old dairy farm is home, where she lives with her husband and an assortment of dogs and cats. Chickens roam around in the backyard. Their three children are grown and their eldest daughter is an indispensable part of Purple House Press.

Susanne Dubrouillet Morais, Raleigh, NC
Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at North Carolina State University since 2010.  Formerly, program director of ORION - Penn State's Wilderness Orientation Program and Instructor at Penn State University (10 years).  Past program director with Clemson University's Clemson Expeditions.  Masters degree in Outdoor Education.

James Moss, JD Littleton, CO
Outdoor industry attorney, risk management consultant and author.  Board of directors of the Galapagos Preservation Society, and Denver Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.  Author of Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Insurance and Law.

Tom Mullin, Richmond, ME
Fellow of the National Association for Interpretation.  Interpretion/Environmental EducationTrails Consultant, Retired Associate Professor of Parks and Forest Resources at Unity College.  Consultant and advisor for a series of twenty Time-Life nature books.  1987 Thru-hiker of the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail.  

Jean Rukkila, Prescott, AZ
Worked more than twenty seasons on western fire lookouts.  Taught composition and creative writing at Coconino Community College.  Served as a visiting artist sponsored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts.  Has published essays in assorted southwest magazines and is a past columnist for Flagstaff Live

Tammie L. Stenger-Ramsey, Bowling Green, KY
Associate Professor, Recreation Administration and Outdoor Experience Leadership at Western Kentucky University.  Leave No Trace Master Educator.  American Canoe Association Canoe Instructor.  Operations Coordinator WKU Field McChesney Field Campus.

Ron Watters, Pocatello, ID
Chairman, National Outdoor Book Awards.  Author of eight outdoor books (Never Turn Back, Ski Camping, The Whitewater Book, etc.)  Formerly, Director of the Idaho State University Outdoor Program (25 years).

Melanie Wulf, Des Moines, IA
Former director of the Outdoor Program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.  Masters in Outdoor Education from Northern Illinois University.  Certified Elementary and Middle School Teacher. Has worked 16 years in the outdoor retail industry and currently serves as the Retail Sales Manager for REI in Des Moines, Iowa.


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