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“Books impart knowledge but only travel imparts wisdom”- Arab Proverb

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”-St. Augustine

Many wilderness adventurers have not discovered the desert because they think of it as large expanses of sand dunes, covered with cacti and teeming with rattlesnakes and scorpions. While these things do exist in certain areas of certain deserts, deserts contain as much or more beauty as an alpine meadow or tropical rain forest. The variety of plant and animal adaptations to extreme temperature variations and a paucity of water make for some amazing life forms. The geology of the desert is particularly beautiful, in some ways due to the limited vegetation density. For example, the Grand Canyon at any season or time of day has a unique combination of color and light that enthralls the observer. The landscapes of Zion, Capital Reef, and Moab are a geologist’s dreamscape.

As a natve of the Midwest, I first discovered the desert vicariously by stumbling upon a book in my local library while looking for a book on backpacking. It was called The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher and was the story of his hike through the Grand Canyon in 1963. It was a fascinating tale of a lone hiker, and his trials and tribulations in the desert. I was hooked and I made it a point to read everything he wrote. I actually ran into him on the trail once and conversed with the “master of backpacking.”

It behooves a wilderness traveler to learn as much about the area he or she is going to before leaving. We often miss some of the finer points of the wild when we fail to educate ourselves whether with maps, field guides, or just reading about others experiences. There are hundreds of books written about the desert but only a few that I consider essential reading material, both fact and fiction. Here are, in no particular order, a list of some of the field guides and literary works that brought me to love the desert:

Desert Solitaire and Beyond the Wall by Edward Abbey

Dune by Frank Herbert

The Man Who Walked Through Time and The Thousand Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher

The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide by Eric Magrane

The Desert Year by Joseph Wood Krutch

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Deserts of the Southwest by Lane Larson

Desert Passages: Encounters With The American Deserts by Patricia Limerick

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

The Desert: Land Of Lost Borders by Michael Welland

Deserts: National Audubon Society Natures Guides by James MacMahon

Physiology of Man in the Desert by Edward Adolph

The Desert by John C. Van Dyke

The Desert Reader: A literary Companion by Gregory McNamee

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