Years ago before having visited my first desert landscape my perception of deserts was that they were devoid of any benefit: devoid of life, devoid of beauty. As a geographer I knew the facts, however my (mis)perceptions remained.
Let’s address some these common misperceptions:
Deserts are devoid of water.
While there is little water in desert regions there is water. There is rainfall in all deserts. The Arica Desert in Chili gets less than an inch while others get as much as 10 inches. This may not be much but the earth and vegetation have a way of conserving what little water they get. If you visit during the “rainy” season beware: flash flooding is an unforeseen danger for the unaware visitor. (While there is water in the photo to the left you wouldn’t want to drink it, thus the name “Badwater”. Even so there is water, albeit intermittent)
Deserts are always hot.
While desert temperatures can exceed 120° in the winter temperatures can dip down into the 30s. Those would be considered “hot” deserts. There are also “cold” deserts which occur in the higher altitudes and Antarctica. In a cold desert precipitation is usually in the form of fog or snow.
Deserts are devoid of animal life.
Actually there are numerous species of mammals including javelina (a type of wild hog), prairie dog, mule deer, porcupine, coyote, jackrabbit, fennec fox, and rats. Additionally, there is an abundance of snakes, lizards, owl, roadrunners, hawks, scorpions, spiders and tarantellas.
Deserts are devoid of plant life.
There are numerous plants, trees, shrubs, cactus and flowers including wooly daisy, saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, Joshua tree and yucca. Not only is desert vegetation beautiful it is also useful. Plants feed small animals as well as providing water.
Deserts are devoid of beauty.
I have visited desert regions on several occasions and after returning home, deserts are what I most long to visit again. The vegetation and the mountains are beautiful. The absence of sound and the dry warmth is soothing to the soul. I long for the peace I experienced. I encourage all of you to visit the desert and let the toxic build up of everyday life melt away.
Mojave Desert: Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada
My first visit to a desert region was Death Valley National Park in the northern region of the Mojave Desert. My daughters and I spent a few hours exploring then went to the nature center. It was 10:00 am and the thermometer read 114° in the shade. The heat was nothing like we could have imagined. We explored the rest of the day at my insistence, they weren’t happy about it. They went along with it because I had reserved a nice cool hotel room in Las Vegas. As we left we all agreed “We will never come back here. It’s too hot, there’s nothing pretty to look at and not much of a place to hike.” I did hike into the basin only because I couldn’t have come so far and not do it. I may have gone 150 yards before returning. TOO much heat!
But those few hours was all it took. Before we arrived at the hotel I was already longing for the peace and beauty of the desert. I told my girls I wanted to go back some day and even they agreed there was more to this desolate place than we had first seen. Death Valley is surreal, otherworldly. Once you visit it leaves a little of itself in your soul. I haven’t been back to Death Valley yet but I have visited many other desert landscapes, all beautiful, all restored my soul.
Death Valley trivia: During our visit I kept feeling like there was something familiar about the place. On our way to Vegas I decided to watch a movie…Star Wars. As I watched my eyes got big and my heart. I checked the credits and confirmed the movie was filmed in part at Death Valley.
All photographs taken at Death Valley National Park
Other posts in this series on Deserts: Great Basin, Chihuahuan Desert, High Desert Land, Sonoran Desert