Posts Tagged ‘Baja California beaches’

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

April 3rd, 2012

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs Of Drylands: The Deserts of North America By Philip Hyde, Part One

Celebrating Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Blog Post!

On this special occasion Landscape Photography Blogger presents an excerpt from Drylands: The Deserts of North America, with photographs and text by Philip Hyde. Besides Slickrock with Edward Abbey and a few titles in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, Drylands is considered Philip Hyde’s magnum opus, or great work. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light, recently donated its archive to Stanford University. Help celebrate Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Post by reading a page from the great book that is becoming more rare all the time…

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

The Five Deserts of North America

…nature is already in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully around us.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

White Domes, Valley of Fire State Park, Mojave Desert, Nevada, copyright 1970 by Philip Hyde. Cover Photograph of “Drylands: The Deserts of North America.” Color Transparency: 4X5 Baby Deardorff View Camera. Dye Transfer Prints, Cibachrome Prints, and Archival Digital Prints. See PhilipHyde.com for Image Info and pricing.

(See the photograph large: “White Domes, Valley of Fire.”)

Webster’s dictionary defines a desert as “an arid region in which the vegetation is especially adapted to scanty rainfall with long intervals of heat and drought…a more or less barren tract incapable of supporting any considerable population without an artificial water supply…Desert rainfall is usually less than ten inches annually.”

This bare bones definition needs expanding. For one thing, barrenness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ancients regarded the desert as a place to avoid—literally, to desert. The biblical “waste-howling wilderness” is a description of the Middle Eastern desert, a fearful place for most people. But even then it was for some a place for contemplation, a retreat from the cares of daily life. In our times, the desert is commonly a refuge, though we can be grateful that the deserts of North America were avoided by so many early travelers, and thereby protected. More recently, parts of these great deserts have become increasingly attractive to sun-worshipers. It is an irony that the climate, attractive to so many people, is being gradually altered by air pollution generated by population growth and its attendant requirements for industries and automobiles.

Webster’s definition doesn’t explain the aridity of the desert. High mountain chains intercept moisture-laden storms, keeping rainfall from the land in the lee of the mountains. Wind also contributes to desert dryness. A map plotting the course of trade winds in relation to deserts around the globe would show most arid lands to lie in the path of the trades. Though our deserts are not as directly in the path of the trades as some, strong winds persist over most of them for long periods, particularly in the spring.

The North American deserts are unlike most deserts in that they are not confined to the interior of the continent. They reach to the sea on both coasts of the Baja California peninsula and along the west coast of mainland Mexico as well, creating some unusual meetings of desert and water.

The scarcity of rainfall in the desert has one advantage. The surface of the land in well-watered regions is often obscured by dense vegetation. In the desert, land forms are readily apparent, the often beautiful sculpture of their contours revealed. This may be why geologists are drawn to the desert and sometimes inspired to near-poetic descriptions. A classic example can be found in Clarence Dutton’s monumental Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, first published in 1882. Here is his description of the Vermillion Cliffs in the Painted Desert:

During the midday hours the cliffs seem to wilt and drop as if retracting their grandeur to hide it from the merciless radiance of the sun whose very effulgence flouts them. Even the colors are ruined. The glaring face of the wall, where the light falls full upon it, wears a scorched, overbaked, discharged look; and where the dense black shadows are thrown—for there are no middle shades—the magical haze of the desert shines forth with a weird, metallic glow which has no color in it. But as the sun declines there comes a revival. The half-tones at length appear, bringing into relief the component masses; the amphitheaters recede into suggestive distances; the salients silently advance toward us; the distorted lines range themselves into true perspective; the deformed curves come back to their proper sweep; the angles grow clean and sharp; and the whole cliff arouses from lethargy and erects itself in grandeur and power as if conscious of its own majesty. Back also come the colors, and as the sun is about to sink they glow with an intense vermilion that seems to be an intrinsic luster emanating from the rocks themselves.

The stone landscape of which Clarence Dutton writes might appear austere and unfriendly to the casual traveler suddenly thrust into it. Many people would not recognize it as a part of their familiar world, but something about the place immediately appealed to me. Perhaps it struck some of the same harmonic notes evoked by the clean expanses of granite in the High Sierra Nevada I had learned to love in my youth. The place spoke to me of the same kind of purity that Ralph Waldo Emerson was alluding to when he wrote of the integrity of natural objects.

I am not able to take up full-time residence in the desert; my roots are too deep in the northern Sierra Nevada where I live now. I can, however, happily spend a season there and feel quite at home. It was not always like that. The ease I feel now is the product of many experiences, not all pleasant, but all valued for what they taught. Nor did the ease come without struggle, but as a result of an effort to understand, to penetrate the discomforts, to clear away the debris of prejudice and preconception that can so distort one’s view of a natural environment. It is not necessary to change the country—or to develop it. As Aldo Leopold put it so well: “Development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”

As a forest dweller and desert traveler, I am especially aware of the contrasts between an arid landscape and one that is well watered. The creek that flows beneath my window as I write; the groundcover, trees, shrubs, and flowering plants; the seasonal and atmospheric changes I observe here are all expressions of water abundance. In the desert it isn’t just the paucity of water that impresses me. I am delighted to discover water’s surprising, often beautiful presence in hidden places, as for example, the spring in Monument Valley that flows from beneath a high sand dune—or those few, small, spring-fed pools surrounded by the vast, sere, rocky landscape of Death Valley.

I also enjoy the contrast between desert vegetation and that of my home environment. In the southern part of the Baja California peninsula, the array of strange, even unique, plant forms is the result of the plants’ special adaptations to water scarcity…

Continued in the future blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2.”

Was Edward Abbey A Mystic?

September 12th, 2011

Jack Loeffler And Edward Abbey Discuss Mysticism While Camped At The Strait Of Hell On The West Coast Of Sonora, Mexico

White Herons, Playa, Baja California, Mexico, copyright 1981 by Philip Hyde.

In his biography of Edward Abbey, Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey, Jack Loeffler described traveling, friendship and working with Edward Abbey on various environmental campaigns. In one chapter Jack Loeffler told a story about exploring and car camping with the “Thoreau of the West” and his wife Clarke Cartwright Abbey on the west coast of Mainland Old Mexico. “On a dirt road that extended from El Desemboque to Kino Bay,” Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey made camp.

They dubbed their camp “Osprey Bay” because they could see “no fewer than five inhabited osprey nests…” and during the day they could see osprey aloft nearly all the time. To get to the camp they had traveled several hundred miles from the U. S. border. Their camp was across Estrecho Infiernillo, or the Strait of Hell, from Baja California with Tiburon Island and Shark Island a few miles out in the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California. Nineteenth century explorers called the narrow passage between Mexico and Baja California the Strait of Hell because during high tide and low tide, in some conditions, treacherous currents and sand bars tended to obstruct navigation and still do today. “There we remained for the better part of two weeks, hiking, floating in the rubber raft, avoiding stingrays, eating, drinking cold beer and warm beer, and even considering thinking about working.”

Edward Abbey made forays for firewood. Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey dug a fire pit and lined it with large rocks in which they put a giant stuffed Turkey that Clarke Abbey had wrapped frozen before the trip. In the evening after their first Turkey feast when “the sound of the surf lulled them into a collective reverie,” Edward Abbey and Jack Loeffler set out on a walk east toward the mountains a few miles away:

The moon was bright. The air was warm. There was no wind. The conditions were ideal for a nighttime stroll near the Straight of Hell. We spoke very little for the first mile or so. We finally crossed the main north-south road and followed a trail continuing east. We were able to walk abreast and listen to the night sounds.

“Jack.”

“Ed.”

“Do you consider yourself a mystic?”

“Wow, I have to think about that for a minute. Do you?”

“Consider you a mystic? Yes.”

Consider yourself a mystic.”

“I asked you first.”

We stumbled along the trail for a bit.

“Probably no more than you do,” I replied vaguely. “Is there any vestigial Presbyterianism left in you?”

“Oh maybe a remnant or two left over from my childhood… But I was asking if you were a mystic?”

“It’s ironic, when I was in college, I was one of the two professed atheists on the campus. It took me years to realize that my sense of atheism was mostly the result of semantics. I certainly didn’t and don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god in any biblical sense. It seems that somehow I’ve intuited the presence of some principle or urge that the English language, at least, isn’t prepared to define. I suppose any religious feelings I have stem from the way I feel about the Earth and about consciousness. I’ve suspected for a long time that the planet is the living organism and that life is the way the planet perceives. We’re just a step along the way. Humans, I mean. We’re really not all that important when you think about it.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Ed. “But what about a sense of purpose? I wonder if we have any purpose in a higher sense. It seems like you spend years trying to absolve yourself from your childhood biases. If you’re really interested, that is.”

“What about you, Ed? Have you ever had a sense of the mystical?”

“Well, as you know, I’ve always tried to follow the truth no matter where it leads. And intellectually, I’ve tried to come to terms with reality by examining the evidence of my own five good bodily senses that I was born with, using my mind to the best of my ability. But there was a time back in Death Valley where I had what I guess was as close to a mystical experience as I’ve ever had. That was years ago. I was a young man. I’ve never had anything quite like it since. As close as I’ve come is after I’ve been out camping somewhere for at least two weeks. It takes at least that long for me to really get into it and leave all the baggage behind.”

“Can you describe what happened back then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not something that’s easy to remember intellectually. It was more the way I felt. As I recall, I felt like I wasn’t separated from anything else. I was by myself at the time. It was as if I could almost perceive some fundamental activity taking place all around me. Everything was alive, even the rocks. I was part of it. Not separate from it at all. I wept for joy or something akin to joy that I can’t really describe. It was a long time ago. It’s not something that can be remembered in the normal way, or at least normal for me. The only time I can get close to it is out camping. I don’t get to do that enough. Not nearly enough.”

See a video of Jack Loeffler on the role of artists in environmental activism… Or, read more about Edward Abbey and how he met and wrote Slickrock with Philip Hyde in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?