Appearing barren and most definitely wild, the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States may look worthless to some, but for Susan Tweit it is an inspiration. In this collection of seven elegant personal essays, she explores undiscovered facets of this seemingly hostile environment. With eloquence, passion, and insight, she describes and reflects on the relationship between the land, history, and people and makes this underappreciated region less barren for those who would share her journeys.
A Bedouin asking a fellow tribesman about grazing conditions in other parts of the country says first simply, “Fih hayah?” or “Is there life?” A desert Arab’s knowledge of the sparse vegetation is tied directly to his life and livelihood.
Bedouin Ethnobotany offers the first detailed study of plant uses among the Najdi Arabic–speaking tribal peoples of eastern Saudi Arabia. It also makes a major contribution to the larger project of ethnobotany by describing aspects of a nomadic peoples’ conceptual relationships with the plants of their homeland.
The modern theoretical basis for studies of the folk classification and nomenclature of plants was developed from accounts of peoples who were small-scale agriculturists and, to a lesser extent, hunter-gatherers. This book fills a major gap by extending such study into the world of the nomadic pastoralist and exploring the extent to which these patterns are valid for another major subsistence type. James P. Mandaville, an Arabic speaker who lived in Saudi Arabia for many years, focuses first on the role of plants in Bedouin life, explaining their uses for livestock forage, firewood, medicinals, food, and dyestuffs, and examining other practical purposes. He then explicates the conceptual and linguistic aspects of his subject, applying the theory developed by Brent Berlin and others to a previously unstudied population. Mandaville also looks at the long history of Bedouin plant nomenclature, finding that very little has changed among the names and classifications in nearly eleven centuries.
An essential volume for anyone interested in the interaction between human culture and plant life, Bedouin Ethnobotany will stand as a definitive source for years to come.
High on the Colorado Plateau lies a uniquely magical desert place: a land of sandy mesas and slickrock escarpments, an elegant maze of vertical-walled, vertigo-inspiring canyons plunging to darkened depths. Cedar Mesa, Utah, is a place frozen in time. A land that can only be adequately explored on foot or horseback, Cedar Mesa offers adventurous visitors magnificent examples of all the topographic and geologic wonders that define "canyon country" throughout the Southwest: stone arches, natural bridges, and breath-sucking precipices, plus hidden springs, hanging gardens, and a treasure of pre-Columbian Indian ruins. Now a writer and a photographer who have roamed the Mesa for more than twenty years—and know many of its well-guarded secrets—offer an intimate look at a place where solitude and silence go hand in hand. Animated by towering "hoodoos"—sandstone formations eroded to resemble all manner of spooky beings—Cedar Mesa is, in David Petersen's words, "an undulating expanse of erosion-sculpted slickrock like petrified ocean swells." He and Branson Reynolds share insights into the natural and human history of the region; they provide a panoramic overview of the Mesa, then take readers on a personally guided descent into the canyons, where hikers can expect to encounter wildlife, prehistoric ruins, stone sculptures, and hidden pools. While providing details regarding much-visited locales, Petersen and Reynolds are more concerned with conveying an overall sense of the area's mystical beauty—capturing the spirit of ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings but keeping their locations secret so that their magic will not be lost. With its relative lack of roads, campgrounds, and maintained trails, Cedar Mesa is an Eden for personal discovery and hands-on adventure. But "be it known," advises Petersen, "that this is not yet another hand-holding, give-it-all-away, chamber-of-commerce-style 'backcountry' guidebook, of which there are far too many already." He and Reynolds have instead fashioned a book to celebrate and interpret "one of the most palpably spiritual natural places remaining on the American continent"—and to instill in readers the importance of protecting it forever.
The Changing Mile, originally published in 1965, was a benchmark in ecological studies, demonstrating the prevalence of change in a seemingly changeless place. Photographs made throughout the Sonoran Desert region in the late 1800s and early 1900s were juxtaposed with photographs of the same locations taken many decades later. The nearly one hundred pairs of images revealed that climate has played a strong role in initiating many changes in the region. This new book updates the classic by adding recent photographs to the original pairs, providing another three decades of data and showing even more clearly the extent of change across the landscape. During these same three decades, abundant information about climatic variability, land use, and plant ecology has accumulated, making it possible to determine causes of change with more confidence.
Using nearly two hundred additional triplicate sets of unpublished photographs, The Changing Mile Revisited utilizes repeat photographs selected from almost three hundred stations located in southern Arizona, in the Pinacate region of Mexico, and along the coast of the Gulf of California. Coarse photogrammetric analysis of this enlarged photographic set shows the varied response of the region's major plant species to the forces of change. The images show vegetation across the entire region at sites ranging in elevation from sea level to a mile above sea level. Some sites are truly arid, while others are located above the desert in grassland and woodland. Common names are used for most plants and animals (with Latin equivalents in endnotes) to make the book more accessible to non-technical readers.
The original Changing Mile was based upon a unique set of data that allowed the authors to evaluate the extent and magnitude of vegetation change in a large geographic region. By extending the original landmark study, The Changing Mile Revisited will remain an indispensable reference for all concerned with the fragile desert environment.
John B Sowell University of Utah Press, 2001 Library of Congress QH102.S69 2001 | Dewey Decimal 577.54097
"An energetic start quickly became a trudge; we glanced back frequently towards our point of departure, an air-conditioned vehicle. Not only did the hot air feel like a blast from a smelter’s furnace, but within minutes the reflected sunlight was doing perceptible damage to any exposed skin. I’m sure I was sweating more than I ever had before, yet my skin was dry...We found ourselves blinking rapidly to keep the eyes moist. After a few more minutes, we turned back for the car, leading our youngest child who would no longer open her eyes."
- John Sowell
Unlike books that merely identify what plants and animals live in the desert, Desert Ecology is a comprehensive but accessible introduction to how these organisms live where they do. Beginning with an overview of the Intermountain, Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, Sowell presents the topographic and the meteorologic conditions that created these regions. He continues with a thorough examination of physiologic and behavioral adaptations that enable plants and animals, even humans, to survive and persist in these inhospitable places.
While basic scientific principles—such as photosynthesis, trophic levels, thermoregulation, and osmoregulation—are presented in terms that nonspecialists will understand, the real draw is the fascinating life histories of dozens of particular organisms. Explore the life cycle of the yucca and creosote bush, trace the wanderings of the gila monster and tenebrionid beetle, breathe in the rhythms of the desert at night.
"This book is for the curious," says the author, for all who enter the "wasteland," on foot or through imagination.
The desert islands in the Sea of Cortez are little known except to a few intrepid tourists, sailors, and fishermen. Though at first glance these stark islands may appear barren, they are a refuge for an astounding variety of plants and animals. While many of the species are typical of the greater Sonoran Desert region, some are endemic or unique to one or two islands. For example, Isla Santa Catalina is home to the world’s only rattlesnake that has lost its ability to grow a rattle. Other islands host nesting birds, such as Isla Rasa, a tiny, flat flow of basalt lava that attracts nearly half a million elegant and royal terns and Heermann’s gulls each spring.
The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is one of the few books devoted to the biogeography of this remarkable part of the world. The book explores the geologic origin of the gulf and its islands, presents some of the basics of island biogeography, details insular life—including residents of the intertidal zone —and provides a brief outlook for preserving this area. More than a simple guidebook, Aitchison’s writing will take both actual and armchair travelers through a gripping tale of natural history.
Like the rest of our fragile planet, the Sea of Cortez and its islands are threatened by humans. Overfishing has eliminated or greatly diminished many fish stocks, and dams on rivers that once flowed into the gulf prevent certain nutrients from reaching the sea. The tenuousness of this area makes the book’s extraordinary photographs and the firsthand descriptions by a well-known teacher, writer, and photographer all the more compelling.
Longtime residents of the Sonoran Desert, the Tohono O'odham people have spent centuries living off the land—a land that most modern citizens of southern Arizona consider totally inhospitable. Ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan has lived with the Tohono O'odham, long known as the Papagos, observing the delicate balance between these people and their environment. Bringing O'odham voices to the page at every turn, he writes elegantly of how they husband scant water supplies, grow crops, and utilize wild edible foods. Woven through his account are coyote tales, O'odham children's impressions of the desert, and observations on the political problems that come with living on both sides of an international border. Whether visiting a sacred cave in the Baboquivari Mountains or attending a saguaro wine-drinking ceremony, Nabhan conveys the everyday life and extraordinary perseverance of these desert people in a book that has become a contemporary classic of environmental literature.
The Desert Year
Joseph Wood Krutch University of Iowa Press, 1952 Library of Congress QH104.5.S6K7 2010 | Dewey Decimal 508.79
Now back in print, Joseph Wood Krutch’s Burroughs Award–winning The Desert Year is as beautiful as it is philosophically profound. Although Krutch—often called the Cactus Walden—came to the desert relatively late in his life, his curiosity and delight in his surroundings abound throughout The Desert Year, whether he is marveling at the majesty of the endless dry sea, at flowers carpeting the desert floor, or at the unexpected appearance of an army of frogs after a heavy rain.
Krutch’s trenchant observations about life prospering in the hostile environment of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert turn to weighty questions about humanity and the precariousness of our existence, putting lie to Western denials of mind in the “lower” forms of life: “Let us not say that this animal or even this plant has ‘become adapted’ to desert conditions. Let us say rather that they have all shown courage and ingenuity in making the best of the world as they found it. And let us remember that if to use such terms in connection with them is a fallacy then it can only be somewhat less a fallacy to use the same terms in connection with ourselves.”
This edition contains 33 exacting drawings by noted illustrator Rudolf Freund. Closely tied to Krutch’s uncluttered text, the drawings tell a story of ineffable beauty.
Now you can share the experiences of the first U.S. scientists who set about discovering the nature of North American deserts. "This is a fascinating account of how these pioneer ecologists laid the foundations for our modern knowledge of plant adaptation to desert environments. . . . It is well done." (American Scientist)
"Provides interesting and thought-provoking reading and is highly recommended to anyone interested in desert ecosystems or community ecology. The book . . . should serve as an inspiration to many for future research."—Journal of Biogeography
"This book is not just about deserts; it is an update of the contributions that research in desert systems is making to community ecology. . . This book will provide a useful reference for desert ecologists, as well as indicate critical directions where progress needs to be made."—Ecology
"This important book fills a significant gap in previous syntheses by presenting a detailed series of reviews of current understanding of community patterns and structure in desert environments. . . . Each chapter is thorough and well written and . . . closes with a discussion of suggested future research. . . . [T]hese ideas will do much to focus interest on the importance of desert systems in understanding community. Thus, this book has interest well beyond desert ecologists alone."—BioScience
"Valuable reading and reference for ecology students, teachers and researchers."—Quarterly Review of Biology
The frustrations and pleasures of gardening are evident; its implications for life are more subtle, lurking under a leaf or buried in a compost pile. Janice Emily Bowers senses these implications, and communicates them as only a fine writer can. In A Full Life in a Small Place, she shows how backyard gardening opens up a broader appreciation of both life and living. Her observations on organic gardening inspire further meditations on nature and wildlife, and demonstrate how gardens both complicate and enrich our lives. In their entirety, these sixteen essays ask how we shall live, and recognize that "before we can determine how, we need to find out why."
Going Back to Bisbee
Richard Shelton University of Arizona Press, 1992 Library of Congress F815.S54 1992 | Dewey Decimal 979.1
One of America's most distinguished poets now shares his fascination with a distinctive corner of our country. Richard Shelton first came to southeastern Arizona in the 1950s as a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca. He soon fell in love with the region and upon his discharge found a job as a schoolteacher in nearby Bisbee. Now a university professor and respected poet living in Tucson, still in love with the Southwestern deserts, Shelton sets off for Bisbee on a not-uncommon day trip. Along the way, he reflects on the history of the area, on the beauty of the landscape, and on his own life.
Couched within the narrative of his journey are passages revealing Shelton's deep familiarity with the region's natural and human history. Whether conveying the mystique of tarantulas or describing the mountain-studded topography, he brings a poet's eye to this seemingly desolate country. His observations on human habitation touch on Tombstone, "the town too tough to die," on ghost towns that perhaps weren't as tough, and on Bisbee itself, a once prosperous mining town now an outpost for the arts and a destination for tourists. What he finds there is both a broad view of his past and a glimpse of that city's possible future.
Going Back to Bisbee explores a part of America with which many readers may not be familiar. A rich store of information embedded in splendid prose, it shows that there are more than miles on the road to Bisbee.
The desert country along the Columbia River is one of the West’s least-known desert places—one that most people don’t even drive through unless they are unusually curious travelers. The Hanford Reach is the last free stretch of the river between the McNary and Priest Rapids Dams, a place boasting a varied landscape of floodplains, wetlands, deserts, orchards—and nuclear reactors. This is not a place that people think to visit. Known primarily for hosting the country’s most toxic nuclear outpost, it is public land that barely exists in public consciousness. But because the Reach has been posted off-limits by the military since 1943, this book offers readers a little-seen glimpse into what the Pacific Northwest’s arid east was like before the postwar boom. Susan Zwinger has kayaked the Columbia through Hanford Reach with scientists and activists who are helping to restore it, and in this book she outlines the geographical extent of the Reach, reviews its history, and takes readers through the terrain by foot, on road, and on the river. Here is a land of dark lava flows and basalt cliffs interspersed throughout subtle, pale shrub-steppe, a table of aridity cut through by one of the country’s most prodigious rivers. Zwinger’s sparkling text, enhanced by Skip Smith’s striking photos, captures the subtleties of the contrasting vistas, just as it makes clear the depth of the radioactive poisoning within the soil and wildlife. We have only just begun to unfold the land’s treasures—petroglyphs, ancient village sites, new species, and geological wonders—and in 2000, President Clinton protected 560 square miles of land as the Hanford Reach National Monument. This book celebrates what is preserved in that buffer zone at the dawn of a new era of environmental responsibility.
When John Alcock replaced the Bermuda grass in his suburban Arizona lawn with gravel, cacti, and fairy dusters, he was doing more than creating desert landscaping. He seeded his property with flowers to entice certain insects and even added a few cowpies to attract termites, creating a personal laboratory for ecological studies. His observations of life in his own front yard provided him with the fieldnotes for this unusual book. In a Desert Garden draws readers into the strange and fascinating world of plants and animals native to Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
As Alcock studies the plants in his yard, he shares thoughts on planting, weeding, and pruning that any gardener will appreciate. And when commenting on the mating rituals of spiders and beetles or marveling at the camouflage of grasshoppers and caterpillars, he uses humor and insight to detail the lives of the insects that live in his patch of desert. Celebrating the virtues of even aphids and mosquitoes, Alcock draws the reader into the intricacies of desert life to reveal the complex interactions found in this unique ecosystem. In a Desert Garden combines meticulous science with contemplations of nature and reminds us that a world of wonder lies just outside our own doors.
The Nature of Desert Nature
Edited by Gary Paul Nabhan University of Arizona Press, 2020 Library of Congress QH88.E94 2020 | Dewey Decimal 577.54
In this refreshing collection, one of our best writers on desert places, Gary Paul Nabhan, challenges traditional notions of the desert. Beautiful, reflective, and at times humorous, Nabhan’s extended essay also called “The Nature of Desert Nature” reveals the complexity of what a desert is and can be. He passionately writes about what it is like to visit a desert and what living in a desert looks like when viewed through a new frame, turning age-old notions of the desert on their heads.
Nabhan invites a prism of voices—friends, colleagues, and advisors from his more than four decades of study of deserts—to bring their own perspectives. Scientists, artists, desert contemplatives, poets, and writers bring the desert into view and investigate why these places compel us to walk through their sands and beneath their cacti and acacia. We observe the spines and spears, stings and songs of the desert anew. Unexpected. Surprising. Enchanting. Like the desert itself, each essay offers renewed vocabulary and thoughtful perceptions.
The desert inspires wonder. Attending to history, culture, science, and spirit, The Nature of Desert Nature celebrates the bounty and the significance of desert places.
Thomas M. Antonio
Alberto Búrquez Montijo
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Father David Denny
Thomas Lowe Fleischner
Alberto Mellado Moreno
Gary Paul Nabhan
Octaviana V. Trujillo
Benjamin T. Wilder
For millennia the ecology of the Great Basin has evolved because of climate change and the impacts of human presence. Nevada’s Changing Wildlife Habitat is the first book to explain the transformations in the plants and animals of this region over time and how they came about. Using data gleaned from archaeological and anthropological studies, numerous historical documents, repeat photography, and several natural sciences, the authors examine changes in vegetation and their impact on wildlife species and the general health of the environment. They also outline the choices that current users and managers of rangelands face in being good stewards of this harsh but fragile environment and its wildlife.
The New Desert Reader
Wild, Peter University of Utah Press, 2006 Library of Congress F786.N48 2006 | Dewey Decimal 917.8
The New Desert Reader brings together a historical cross section of writing about the American Southwest in selections that demonstrate how thinking about American deserts has changed from the earliest times to the present day. Beginning with the centuries-old legends of the Tohono O’Odham Indians, it moves through the foresighted observations of John Wesley Powell, one-armed explorer of the Grand Canyon; continues with the delicate appreciations of Mary Austin and Joseph Wood Krutch; includes examples of the keen activist writings of Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey; and finishes with such contemporary desert writers as Tony Hillerman and others.
A slow change in outlook dominates the book, as attitudes shift from viewing the desert as a place to be despised or exploited to an appreciation of it as a special place, an arena of highly complex natural communities, and a wild refuge for the human body and soul. Comprehensive and brightly informative, The New Desert Reader will be invaluable to anyone interested in the history, literature, and beauty of North America’s treasured desert places.
Sonoran Desert Summer
John Alcock University of Arizona Press, 1990 Library of Congress QH104.5.S58A42 1990 | Dewey Decimal 574.526520979173
What could seem less inviting than summer in the desert? For most people, this prospect conjures up the image of relentless heat and parched earth; for biologist John Alcock, summer in Arizona's Sonoran Desert represents an opportunity to investigate the wide variety of life that flourishes in one of the most extreme environments in North America. "Only very special plants and animals can survive and reproduce in a place that may receive as little as six inches of rain in a year," observes Alcock, "a place where the temperature may rise above one hundred degrees each day for months on end." Yet he and other biologists have discovered here startling signs of life hidden in plain view under the summer sun:
- male digger bees compete to reach virgins underground during the early summer mating season;
- the round-tailed ground squirrel goes about its business, sounding alarm calls when danger threatens its kin;
- the big-jawed beetles Dendrobias mandibularis emerge in time to feast on saguaro fruits and to use their mandibles on rival males as well;
- Harris's hawks congregate in groups, showing their affinity for polyandry and communal hunting;
- robberflies mimic the appearance of the bees and wasps on which they prey;
- and peccaries reveal the adaptation of their reproductive cycle to the desert's seasonal rains.
The book's 38 chapters introduce readers to these and other desert animals and plants, tracing the course of the season through activities as vibrant as mating rituals and as subtle as the gradual deterioration of a fallen saguaro cactus. Enhanced by the line drawings of Marilyn Hoff Stewart, Sonoran Desert Summer is both an account of how modern biology operates and a celebration of the beauty and diversity that can be found in even the most unpromising places.
Southwestern Desert Resources
Edited by William Halvorson, Cecil Schwalbe, and Charles van Riper III University of Arizona Press, 2010 Library of Congress QH541.5.D4S6 2010
The southwestern deserts stretch from southeastern California to west Texas and then south to central Mexico. The landscape of this region is known as basin and range topography featuring to “sky islands” of forest rising from the desert lowlands which creates a uniquely diverse ecology. The region is further complicated by an international border, where governments have caused difficulties for many animal populations.
This book puts a spotlight on individual research projects which are specific examples of work being done in the area and when they are all brought together, to shed a general light of understanding the biological and cultural resources of this vast region so that those same resources can be managed as effectively and efficiently as possible. The intent is to show that collaborative efforts among federal, state agency, university, and private sector researchers working with land managers, provides better science and better management than when scientists and land managers work independently.
Winner of the 1990 Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction,The Telling Distance evokes the yearning expanses of our southwestern deserts and finds them full of sensuous marvels, erratic life forms, eccentric fellow travelers, dry humor, and surprise. In prose that revels in paradox, it reveals desert distances to be doubly telling: they both magnify our spirit and have incomparable tales to tell.
Life in the desert is a waiting game: waiting for rain. And in a year of drought, the stakes are especially high.
John Alcock knows the Sonoran Desert better than just about anyone else, and in this book he tracks the changes he observes in plant and animal life over the course of a drought year. Combining scientific knowledge with years of exploring the desert, he describes the variety of ways in which the wait for rain takes place—and what happens when it finally comes.
The desert is a land of five seasons, featuring two summers—hot, dry months followed by monsoon—and Alcock looks at the changes that take place in an entire desert community over the course of all five. He describes what he finds on hikes in the Usery Mountains near Phoenix, where he has studied desert life over three decades and where frequent visits have enabled him to notice effects of seasonal variation that might escape a casual glance.
Blending a personal perspective with field observation, Alcock shows how desert ecology depends entirely on rainfall. He touches on a wide range of topics concerning the desert’s natural history, noting the response of saguaro flowers to heat and the habits of predators, whether soaring red-tailed hawk or tiny horned lizard. He also describes unusual aspects of insects that few desert hikers will have noticed, such as the disruptive color pattern of certain grasshoppers that is more effective than most camouflage.
When the Rains Come is brimming with new insights into the desert, from the mating behaviors of insects to urban sprawl, and features photographs that document changes in the landscape as drought years come and go. It brings us the desert in the harshest of times—and shows that it is still teeming with life.
For many people beyond Nevada’s borders, the state is no more than the nation’s desert dumping ground for dangerous waste. Others know it only for its hedonistic centers of gambling and entertainment. This scandal belies the extraordinary beauty and wonder of the state’s wilderness areas and the precious natural, aesthetic, and cultural resources to be found there.
In Wild Nevada, editors Roberta Moore and Scott Slovic have assembled twenty-nine writers who know and love the Nevada wilderness to testify on its behalf. Contributors include literary artists and scholars, environmental and community activists, leading politicians, ranchers, scientists, and park rangers. Some essays offer observations on the political and philosophical discussions of wilderness that heat up the halls of academia and Congress; others recount moving personal encounters with wild places within Nevada; and still others comment on the ambiguities of preserving wild places through wilderness designation. But despite the eclectic backgrounds of the writers and their varied perspectives on public policy, they are all united in their devotion to the ecological and aesthetic values of Nevada’s threatened wilderness areas. Foreword by Michael Frome.
Zion Canyon: A Storied Land
Text by Greer K. Chesher; Photographs by Michael Plyler University of Arizona Press, 2007 Library of Congress F832.Z8C48 2007 | Dewey Decimal 917.92480434
Zion National Park has served as the stage set for more than twenty-five movies, including, most notably, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It is also a popular tourist destination, boasting a visitor log of more than 2.5 million every year. During the summer months, tour buses rattle their way into the park almost hourly. Sightseers crowd polished-trestle-wood and river-rock inns, buy hand-woven bags imported from Guatemala, and sip icy margaritas from the porch of an old bar with a stunning view of irrigated Mexican primroses and glowing redrock cliffs. While Zion National Park is a familiar vista to millions of day-trippers and film viewers, few ever intimately experience the unpredictable, often hostile, but always magnificent reality of this rugged frontier.
Greer K. Chesher brings us the first personal and in-depth look at Zion. In striking and elegant prose, she vividly recounts experiences that only a park ranger and resident of the region for more than two decades could have. She also lucidly explains the area’s natural and geological wonders, including the dynamics of Zion’s ecology, changes to plant and animal species wrought through human technology, and what these changes mean for the future.
Beyond the region’s amazing array of flora and fauna, she describes the landscape’s lasting imprint on settlers and current residents, and explains the politics that have long surrounded its protection. Award-winning photographer Michael Plyler, also a resident of the region, captures the allure of the park in spectacular images that illustrate the intimate details and geological wonder of the place. These exquisite photographs make this book a stunning pictorial as well as literary tribute to a place that is known to so many but about which so little is truly understood.