Australian novelist Keneally (Flying Hero Class, p. 131, etc.) brings his lively imagination to bear on the American Southwest. This is a sometimes sketchy account of a midwinter swing, by car and cross-country skis, through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Keneally doesn't talk to people much, and his reactions to landscapes can be predictable: ``Maybe religion is so strong in this landscape because this is terrain which puts the human in his place.'' But as in The Playmaker and Schindler's List, history is what moves him. He offers lively capsule biographies of figures who sum up an impulse, an era, a landscape, a paradox: Mormon prophet Brigham Young, silver tycoon Horace Tabor, the young scientists who were casualties of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. The proclaimed centerpiece of the book is a visit to Mesa Verde, that uplifting site in southwest Colorado where a thousand years of Native American history can be read from its architecture: pit houses, mesa-top temples, cliff palaces. Why did the accomplished Anasazi, its inhabitants, clear out after A.D. 1300? Was their mission to settle again in the wilderness, to start from scratch- -akin to the drive that sent the Mormons from upstate New York to Utah? Keneally playfully draws some unusual historical parallels in order to chide Americans (condescendingly at times) for their inattention to their ancient roots on this continent. For those who don't know the region, an engaging if partial introduction. For those who do, there's the fun of watching a good novelist pursue his obsessions. Keneally is most passionate not about the great outdoors but about the Mormon genealogical archive in Salt Lake City, where the names of 121 million dead are on record, and where he finds his own ``Anasazi''--a Navajo word meaning ``the ancient ones.''