“From the upper bunk where I write, a narrow window allows me a southern exposure of the desert beyond this prison. Saguaro cacti, residents here long before this rude concrete pueblo, fill the upper part of my frame. If I could open the window and reach out across the razed ground, sand traps, and shining perimeter fence, I might touch their fluted sides, their glaucous and waxen skins.”
For some people, even prison cannot shut out the natural world.
A teacher and family man incarcerated in Arizona State Prison—the result of a transgression that would cost him a dozen years of his life—Ken Lamberton can see beyond his desert walls. In essays that focus on the natural history of the region and on his own personal experiences with desert places, the author of the Burroughs Medal-winning book Wilderness and Razor Wire takes readers along as he revisits the Southwest he knew when he was free, and as he makes an inner journey toward self-awareness. Whether considering the seemingly eternal cacti or the desolate beauty of the Pinacate, he draws on sharp powers of observation to re-create what lies beyond his six-by-eight cell and to contemplate the thoughts that haunt his mind as tenaciously as the kissing bugs that haunt his sleep.
Ranging from prehistoric ruins on the Colorado Plateau to the shores of the Sea of Cortez, these writings were begun before Wilderness and Razor Wire and serve as a prequel to it. They seamlessly interweave natural and personal history as Lamberton explores caves, canyons, and dry ponds, evoking the mysteries and rhythms of desert life that elude even the most careful observers. He offers new ways of thinking about how we relate to the natural world, and about the links between those relationships and the ones we forge with other people. With the assurance of a gifted writer, he seeks to make sense of his own place in life, crafting words to come to terms with an insanity of his own making, to look inside himself and understand his passions and flaws.
Whether considering rattlesnakes of the hellish summer desert or the fellow inmates of his own personal hell, Lamberton finds meaningful connections—to his crime and his place, to the people who remained in his life and those who didn’t. But what he reveals in Beyond Desert Walls ultimately arises from language itself: a deep, and perhaps even frightening, understanding of a singular human nature.
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 Sonoran Desert is a distinctive biotic region that fascinates scientist, students, and nature lovers. This book offers an accessible introduction to Sonoran Desert ecology.
Eight original essays by Sonoran Desert specialists provide an overview of the practice of ecology at landscape, community, and organismal scales. The essays explore the rich diversity of plant life in the Sonoran Desert and the ecological patterns and processes that underlie it. They also reveal the history and scientific legacy of the Desert Laboratory in Tucson, which has conducted research on the Sonoran Desert since 1903.
Coverage includes diversity and affinities of the flora, physical environments and vegetation, landscape complexity and ecological diversity, population dynamics of annual plants, form and function of cacti, and the relationship between plants and the animals that use them as feeding and breeding resources. The text also examines the ecological consequences of modern agricultural development, as well as the impact on the modern biota of 40,000 years of change in climate, vegetation, megafauna, and ancient cultures.
This comprehensive book covers a broad range of spatial and temporal scales to highlight the diversity of research being pursued in the Sonoran Desert. It is both a testament to these ongoing studies and an authoritative introduction to the diverse plant life in the region.
1. Diversity and Affinities of the Flora of the Sonoran Floristic Province, Steven P. McLaughlin and Janice E. Bowers
2. Vegetation and Habitat Diversity at the Southern Edge of the Sonoran Desert, Alberto Bórquez, Angelina Martínez Yrízar, Richard S. Felger, and David Yetman
3. The Sonoran Desert: Landscape Complexity and Ecological Diversity, Joseph R. McAuliffe
4. Population Ecology of Sonoran Desert Annual Plants, D. Lawrence Venable and Catherine E. Pake
5. Form and Function of Cacti, Park S. Nobel and Michael E. Loik
6. Ecological Genetics of Cactophilic Drosophila, William J. Etges, W. R. Johnson, G. A. Duncan, G. Huckins, and W. B. Heed
7. Ecological Consequences of Agricultural Development in a Sonoran Desert Valley, Laura L. Jackson and Patricia W. Comus
8. Deep History and a Wilder West, Paul S. Martin
From the Pinacate lava fields and expansive dunes to the shores of the Gulf of California, the Gran Desierto is one of the hottest and driest places in the Western Hemisphere. Yet this region in the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico embraces a remarkable number of habitats with a fascinating and surprisingly rich flora. This is the heart of the Sonoran Desert, still in a largely primordial state, in juxtaposition with the ravished wetlands of the once great Río Colorado. Flora of the Gran Desierto is the culmination of more than twenty-five years of research in this magnificent desert and delta by botanist Richard Felger. This comprehensive floristic study of more than 565 species of vascular plants features original diagnostic descriptions and innovative identification keys to the families, genera, and species. Particular attention has been devoted to taxa that are poorly known. Even weeds and their histories are treated in detail. Hundreds of illustrations by such eminent botanical artists as Lucretia Brezeale Hamilton, Matt Johnson, and Bobbi Angell will aid in the identification of plants.
Common names of plants are given in English, Spanish, and O'odham. While emphasizing scientific accuracy, the book is written in an accessible style. Felger's observations and knowledge of plant ecology, geographic distribution, evolution, ethnobotany, plant variation and special adaptations, and the history of the region provides botanists, naturalists, ecologists, conservationists, and anyone else celebrating the desert with readable, interesting, and important information. With two of Mexico's newest biosphere reserves—the Pinacate and the Upper Gulf of California—this region is a keystone for desert conservation efforts. Its location linking vast preserves to the north makes this book especially useful for anyone interested in borderland studies and the Sonoran Desert. Flora of the Gran Desierto represents a most creative, definitive, and enthusiastic treatment of Sonoran Desert plant life and is highly relevant to ecological restoration in deserts and wetlands in arid places worldwide.
Winner of the Society for Economic Botany’s Mary W. Klinger Book Award
The seemingly inhospitable Sonoran Desert has provided sustenance to indigenous peoples for centuries. Although it is to all appearances a land bereft of useful plants, fully one-fifth of the desert's flora are edible.
This volume presents information on nearly 540 edible plants used by people of more than fifty traditional cultures of the Sonoran Desert and peripheral areas. Drawing on thirty years of research, Wendy C. Hodgson has synthesized the widely scattered literature and added her own experiences to create an exhaustive catalog of desert plants and their many and varied uses.
Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert includes not only plants such as gourds and legumes but also unexpected food sources such as palms, lilies, and cattails, all of which provided nutrition to desert peoples. Each species entry lists recorded names and describes indigenous uses, which often include nonfood therapeutic and commodity applications. The agave, for example, is cited for its use as food and for alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, syrup, fiber, cordage, clothing, sandals, nets, blankets, lances, fire hearths, musical instruments, hedgerows, soap, and medicine, and for ceremonial purposes. The agave entry includes information on harvesting, roasting, and consumption—and on distinguishing between edible and inedible varieties.
No other source provides such a vast amount of information on traditional plant uses for this region. Accessible to general readers, this book is an invaluable compendium for anyone interested in the desert’s hidden bounty.
Gathering the Desert
Gary Paul Nabhan; Illustrations by Paul Mirocha University of Arizona Press, 1985 Library of Congress QK211.N33 1985 | Dewey Decimal 581.61097217
Winner of the John Burroughs Association’s John Burroughs Medal for natural history writing and a Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association
To the untrained eye, a desert is a wasteland that defies civilization; yet the desert has been home to native cultures for centuries and offers sustenance in its surprisingly wide range of plant life. Gary Paul Nabhan has combed the desert in search of plants forgotten by all but a handful of American Indians and Mexican Americans. In Gathering the Desert readers will discover that the bounty of the desert is much more than meets the eye—whether found in the luscious fruit of the stately organpipe cactus or in the lowly tepary bean.
Nabhan has chosen a dozen of the more than 425 edible wild species found in the Sonoran Desert to demonstrate just how bountiful the land can be. From the red-hot chiltepines of Mexico to the palms of Palm Springs, each plant exemplifies a symbolic or ecological relationship which people of this region have had with plants through history. Each chapter focuses on a particular plant and is accompanied by an original drawing by artist Paul Mirocha. Word and picture together create a total impression of plants and people as the book traces the turn of seasons in the desert.
In the darkness of the star-studded desert, bats and moths feed on the nectar of night-blooming cactus flowers. By day, birds and bees do the same, taking to blooms for their sweet sustenance. In return these special creatures pollinate the equally intriguing plants in an ecological circle of sustainability.
The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse desert in the world. Four species of columnar cacti, including the iconic saguaro and organ pipe, are among its most conspicuous plants. No Species Is an Island describes Theodore H. Fleming’s eleven-year study of the pollination biology of these species at a site he named Tortilla Flats in Sonora, Mexico, near Kino Bay.
Now Fleming shares the surprising results of his intriguing work. Among the novel findings are one of the world’s rarest plant-breeding systems in a giant cactus; the ability of the organ pipe cactus to produce fruit with another species’ pollen; the highly specialized moth-cactus pollination system of the senita cactus; and the amazing lifestyle of the lesser long-nosed bat, the major nocturnal pollinator of three of these species.
These discoveries serve as a primer on how to conduct ecological research, and they offer important conservation lessons for us all. Fleming highlights the preciousness of the ecological web of our planet—Tortilla Flats is a place where cacti and migratory bats and birds connect such far-flung habitats as Mexico’s tropical dry forest, the Sonoran Desert, and the temperate rain forests of southeastern Alaska. Fleming offers an insightful look at how field ecologists work and at the often big surprises that come from looking carefully at a natural world where no species stands alone.
The desert islands of the Gulf of California are among the world's best-preserved archipelagos. The diverse and unique flora, from the cardón forests of Cholludo to the agave-dominated slopes of San Esteban remain much as they were centuries ago, when the Comcaac (Seri people) were the only human presence in the region. Almost 400 plant species exist here, with each island manifesting a unique composition of vegetation and flora. For thousands of years, climatic and biological forces have sculpted a set of unparalleled desert worlds.
Plant Life of a Desert Archipelago is the first in-depth coverage of the plants on islands in the Gulf of California found in between the coasts of Baja California and Sonora. The work is the culmination of decades of study by botanist Richard Felger and recent investigations by Benjamin Wilder, in collaboration with Sr. Humberto Romero-Morales, one of the most knowledgeable Seris concerning the region's flora. Their collective effort weaves together careful and accurate botanical science with the rich cultural and stunning physical setting of this island realm.
The researchers surveyed, collected, and studied thousands of plants—seen here in meticulous illustrations and stunning color photographs—providing the most precise species accounts of the islands ever made. To access remote parts of the islands the authors worked directly with the Comcaac, an indigenous community who have lived off marine and terrestrial life in this coastal desert region for centuries. Invaluable information regarding indigenous names and distributions are an intrinsic part of this work.
The flora descriptions are extraordinarily detailed and painstakingly crafted for field biologists. Conservationists, students, and others who are interested in learning about the natural wealth of the Gulf of California, desert regions, or islands in general are sure to be captivated by this rich and fascinating volume.
The author of The Desert, the book that made the American landscape accessible to the mainstream mind, was much less like his fellow environmental prophets John Muir and Henry David Thoreau than he would have had us believe. Van Dyke claimed to have wandered "alone on horseback for thousands of miles through the American Southwest and northern Mexico," as readers of The Desert—now in the millions since the book was published in 1901—were told. He did not. In The Secret Life of John C. Van Dyke, Teague and Wild unmask the desert saint with Van Dyke’s own recently discovered letters. These letters depict a privileged, patrician, and pampered member of the upper-class. His incriminating correspondence reveals that he saw most of the desert from plush railroad cars and grand hotel rooms. In the introduction, the editors clear up many misconceptions scholars currently hold about Van Dyke’s ecological principles, about his outdoorsmanship, and about his trip through the desert itself. As the centennial of the publication of The Desert approaches, this lively collection of letters helps set the record straight. The John C. Van Dyke unveiled in The Secret Life is a more varied character than we had supposed—still worthy of much admiration for his remarkable accomplishments, but still mysterious, and not the man we thought him to be.
In Mexico’s western Sonoran Desert along the Gulf of California is a place made extraordinary by the desert solitude, the dynamic sea, and the people who live there—the Seris. Central to the lives of these people are the sea and its shores.
Shells on a Desert Shore describes the Seri knowledge of mollusks and includes names, folklore, history, uses, and much more. Cathy Moser Marlett’s research of several decades, conducted in the Seri language, builds on work begun in 1951 by her parents, Edward and Becky Moser. The language, spoken by fewer than a thousand people today, is considered endangered. Marlett presents what she has learned from Seri consultants over recent decades and also draws from her own childhood experiences while living in a Seri village. The information from the people who had lived as hunter-gatherers provides a window into a lifestyle no longer recalled from personal experience by most Seris today—and perhaps a window into the lives of other peoples who made the Gulf’s shores their home.
The book offers a wealth of information about Seri history, as well as species accounts of more than 150 mollusks from the Seri area on the central Gulf coast. Chapters describe how the people ate mollusks or used them medicinally, how the mollusks were named, and how their shells were used. The author provides several hundred detailed drawings and photographs, many of them archival.
Shells on a Desert Shore is a fresh, original presentation of a significant part of the Seri way of life. Unique because it is written from the perspective of a participant in the Seri culture, the book will stand as a definitive, irreplaceable work in ethnography, a time capsule of the Seri people and their connection to the sea.
The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide
Edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos, Illustrations by Paul Mirocha University of Arizona Press, 2016 Library of Congress PS509.S56+ | Dewey Decimal 810.9327917
A land of austerity and bounty, the Sonoran Desert is a place that captures imaginations and hearts. It is a place where barbs snag, thorns prick, and claws scratch. A place where lizards scramble and pause, hawks hunt like wolves, and bobcats skulk in creosote.
Both literary anthology and hands-on field guide, The Sonoran Desert is a groundbreaking book that melds art and science. It captures the stunning biodiversity of the world’s most verdant desert through words and images. More than fifty poets and writers—including Christopher Cokinos, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Ken Lamberton, Eric Magrane, Jane Miller, Gary Paul Nabhan, Alberto Ríos, Ofelia Zepeda, and many others—have composed responses to key species of this striking desert. Each creative contribution is joined by an illustration by award-winning artist Paul Mirocha and scientific information about the creature or plant authored by the book’s editors.
From the saguaro to the mountain lion, from the black-tailed jackrabbit to the mesquite, the species represented here have evoked compelling and creative responses from each contributor. Just as writers such as Edward Abbey and Ellen Meloy have memorialized the desert, this collection is sure to become a new classic, offering up the next generation of voices of this special and beautiful place, the Sonoran Desert.
Although possessing a common physical heritage, the Sonoran Desert has taken on highly contrasting forms in its American and Mexican portions. This work does not, therefore, attempt a regional study in the usual sense of the term, but is rather an examination of disparate economic development, much influenced by contrasting technological achievements as well as the accidents of history.
Although the significance of geographic regionalism is implicit throughout this study, no attempt is made to show any overriding unity at work, geographical or otherwise, welding together a "desert region." Instead the desert acts as a stage for social drama in which drought and extreme heat provide the essential backcloth. The scarcity of water and man's inability to grow crops without irrigation have not, indeed, changed with time, and only constant reference to this immutable factor can give meaning to the evolution of human activities within the desert.
The Sonoran Desert, a fragile ecosystem, is under ever-increasing pressure from a burgeoning human population. This ecological atlas of the region's plants, a greatly enlarged and full revised version of the original 1972 atlas, will be an invaluable resource for plant ecologists, botanists, geographers, and other scientists, and for all with a serious interest in living with and protecting a unique natural southwestern heritage. An encyclopedia as well as an atlas, this monumental work describes the taxonomy, geographic distribution, and ecology of 339 plants, most of them common and characteristic trees, shrubs, or succulants. Also included is valuable information on natural history and ethnobotanical, commercial, and horticultural uses of these plants. The entry for each species includes a range map, an elevational profile, and a narrative account. The authors also include an extensive bibliography, referring the reader to the latest research and numerous references of historical importance, with a glossary to aid the general reader. Sonoran Desert Plants is a monumental work, unlikely to be superseded in the next generation. As the region continues to attract more people, there will be an increasingly urgent need for basic knowledge of plant species as a guide for creative and sustainable habitation of the area. This book will stand as a landmark resource for many years to come.
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.
One of the most recognizable animals of the Southwest, the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) makes its home in both the Sonoran and Mohave Deserts, as well as in tropical areas to the south in Mexico. Called by Tohono O'odham people "komik'c-ed," or "shell with living thing inside," it is one of the few desert creatures kept as a domestic pet—as well as one of the most studied reptiles in the world. Most of our knowledge of desert tortoises comes from studies of Mohave Desert populations in California and Nevada. However, the ecology, physiology, and behavior of these northern populations are quite different from those of their southern, Sonoran Desert, and tropical cousins, which have been studied much less. Differences in climate and habitat have shaped the evolution of three races of desert tortoises as they have adapted to changes in heat, rainfall, and sources of food and shelter as the deserts developed in the last ten million years.
This book presents the first comprehensive summary of the natural history, biology, and conservation of the Sonoran and Sinaloan desert tortoises, reviewing the current state of knowledge of these creatures with appropriate comparisons to Mohave tortoises. It condenses a vast amount of information on population ecology, activity, and behavior based on decades of studying tortoise populations in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, and also includes important material on the care and protection of tortoises. Thirty-two contributors address such topics as tortoise fossil records, DNA analysis, and the mystery of secretive hatchlings and juveniles. Tortoise health is discussed in chapters on the care of captives, and original data are presented on the diets of wild and captive tortoises, the nutrient content of plant foods, and blood parameters of healthy tortoises. Coverage of conservation issues includes husbandry methods for captive tortoises, an overview of protective measures, and an evaluation of threats to tortoises from introduced grass and wildfires. A final chapter on cultural knowledge presents stories and songs from indigenous peoples and explores their understanding of tortoises.
As the only comprehensive book on the desert tortoise, this volume gathers a vast amount of information for scientists, veterinarians, and resource managers while also remaining useful to general readers who keep desert tortoises as backyard pets. It will stand as an enduring reference on this endearing creature for years to come.
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.
Where Clouds Are Formed
Ofelia Zepeda University of Arizona Press, 2008 Library of Congress PS3576.E64W47 2008 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
Ofelia Zepeda is a Native American poet who possesses a kind of double vision. She sees the contemporary world through her own highly observant eyes and, at the same time, through the eyes of her Tohono O’odham ancestors. Seeing this way infuses her poetry with a resonance and depth that makes it a delight to read—and re-read.
Zepeda is as clear-eyed about the past as she is about the present. She recalls waiting for the school bus on a cold morning inside her father’s truck, listening to the sounds of the engine, the windshield wipers, and the “soft rain on the hood.” She remembers celebrating Mass on the “cold dirt floor of the Winter Solstice.” In the present, she sees both the frustration and the humor in a woman she observes trying to eat pancakes with one hand while her other resides in a cast: “Watching her, I realize eating pancakes is a two-handed job.”
Whatever she sees, she filters through her second set of eyes, which keep the past always present. She tells of traveling to Waw Giwulig, the most sacred mountain of the Tohono O’odham, to ask for blessings—and forgiveness. She writes that one should always bring music to the mountains, “so they are generous with the summer rains.” And, still, “the scent of burning wood / holds the strongest memory. / Mesquite, cedar, piñon, juniper, . . . / we catch the scent of burning wood; / we are brought home.” It is a joy to see the world afresh through her eyes.