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"It is not necessary to read a book to enjoy our strange Western deserts. In fact it is better, I think, to enter the desert the first time with a clean, clear mind devoid of preconceptions, so far as possible."

From the preface to BEYOND THE WALL by Edward Abbey

As Abbey's quote suggests, there's much more to the desert than the term would lead us to expect. This is a view looking east from Zabriskie Point, located in the southeast section of Death Valley National Park. (Zabriskie Point is named for a former superintendent of a borax mine in the area; those of you who are old enough to remember 1950's television may remember the old "20 Mule Team Borax" commercials, and you can actually tour a borax mine and processing facility in Death Valley.) Zabriskie Point is a range of yellowish hills that cover the area - hills that are the remains of a lake bed whose sediments were deposited 5 or 10 million years ago, according to a guide book. The contrast between this area and the desolation and sparseness of the valley part of Death Valley (see last month's Natural Escape) is amazing. As is often the case in the southwest, these highly contrasting land forms are located next to each other, providing a great visual variety.


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"Wherever the earth is clothed with vegetation ... it makes man feel to some extent at home because things which, like him, change and grow and die have asserted their importance. But wherever ... living things are no longer common enough or conspicuous enough to seem more than trivial accidents, he feels something like terror ... This is a country where the inanimate dominates and in which not only man but the very plants themselves seem intruders."

From "Undiscovered Country" in THE DESERT YEAR
by Joseph Wood Krutch

Here you see a sunrise - actually, pre-sunrise - photo of the Zabriskie Point area. This view faces west, and the promontory in the right center of the photo is Zabriskie Point itself. Between it and the mountains in the background is the dry lake bed of Death Valley. We arrived at this location around 5:30 a.m. and waited for the sun to rise behind us. As it did, these western formations began to be bathed in a very subtle pink glow - as if the sun was in its warm-up act before the main event of a full sunrise.

If you are interested in excellent landscape photography, take a look at NATURE'S AMERICA which captures images from around the US, or PLATEAU LIGHT which contains images from the Arizona-Utah redrock canyon country, or ARIZONA: THE BEAUTY OF IT ALL. All are reasonably priced for photography books of this type, and you'll find them endlessly enjoyable.

Also, there are many resources on the Web concerning various aspects of landscape and environmental issues, and more. Among the more interesting ones I can suggest are the Bureau of Land Management's Visual Resource Management program, the National Park Service, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

If You'd Like To Explore Some More...

There are several nature writers whose work I really enjoy reading, including Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Henry David Thoreau and Everett Ruess. To see a list of their writings, please visit the Natural Escape Writer's page, and spend some time browsing through the titles.

Entire contents of this website Copyright © 2007 Gil Gordon Associates