Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2

January 15th, 2013 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs of Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde, Part Two

Continuing the series started with the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 1.” This blog post gives the behind the scenes story of the book, as well as a description of the book by way of the actual book flaps on the hardbound 1st edition.

Where Drylands Began


Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho, copyright 1983 by Philip Hyde.

Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho, copyright 1983 by Philip Hyde. From the book Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

(View the photograph large: “Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho.”)

Yolla Bolly Press, the same book packager and agent who put together Galen Rowell’s famous book, Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, collaborated with my father, pioneer color landscape photographer Philip Hyde, to select images and plan the concept for what became one of Dad’s most important books: Drylands: The Deserts of North America. Drylands, with photographs and text by Philip Hyde, introduction and notes on plants and animals of the North American deserts by renowned award-winning naturalist David Rains Wallace and drawings of desert plants and animals by Vincent Lopez was the culmination of Dad’s “wandering in the desert” as he put it, quoting the New Testament. Recently, Yolla Bolly Press donated its archive to Stanford University, which will be the home of Drylands in perpetuity.

In the next blog post in this series, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 3,” we will get back into Dad’s text, but first, I will start at the beginning and share some important insider background to round out the story. Also, I will give you a preview of what is to come by presenting the dust cover jacket flap blurbs below.

After he had been the primary illustrator of dozens of books, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich blew Dad’s mind by sending him his only advance ever on a book: a check for $50,000, which is large for a photography book. HBJ then released Drylands: The Deserts of North America in 1987. Reviewers from several major newspapers reviewed Drylands, but the only major review reproduced online today is in the Los Angeles Times. After Drylands received the following review from Library Journal, libraries across the nation purchased the large format book for their collections.

In this beautiful exposition of the five deserts of North America, Hyde’s photographs capture the desolate and sometimes haunting beauty of the desert landscape. Hyde has been exploring the desert for over 30 years and his love for the land is obvious. Unfortunately, his essays here are rather slight compared with the photographs. There is, however, an enlightening introduction by David Rains Wallace about evolutionary mysteries the desert presents. Libraries that can afford this book will not be disappointed by its quality.

By Randy Dykhuis, Grand Rapids Public Library, Michigan.

Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

When I looked up Drylands on WorldCat, I was surprised to find that dozens of university, state and municipal libraries in most states have a copy of the book, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell and even Cambridge in the UK. Many libraries in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand have copies of Dad’s classic color film desert tribute as well.

The Dust Jacket Flaps

Distinguished photographer Philip Hyde and award-winning writer David Rains Wallace pool their talents here, in this dazzling book depicting in words, photographs, and drawings the many faces of the deserts of North America. What emerges is an unforgettable portrait of harsh yet lovely lands with diverse animals and plants and landforms.

Philip Hyde has been photographing the deserts of the North American West since 1951. Drylands reveals 95 full-color brilliant image of the five major deserts:

PAINTED DESERT with soaring cliffs, deep canyons—including the Grand Canyon—and varicolored hills

GREAT BASIN DESERT with climatic extremes and long, parallel mountain chains and mountain “islands” surrounded by dry flatland

MOJAVE DESERT with many-armed Joshua trees and the vast, empty expanse of Death Valley

SONORAN DESERT with high mountains and oversized trees and cactuses—including the saguaro, which grows to spectacular heights

CHIHUAHUAN DESERT with two great rivers, the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos, yet with the driest country.

Hyde’s superb photographs are complemented by luminous descriptions of geographical and geological features and by journal vignettes of his encounters with the drylands.

In his introductory essay, David Raines Wallace looks at the deserts in time: the evolutionary past, the evolutionary future, and today. In his notes, Wallace provides a valuable guide to the characteristic features and habitats of desert plants (ocotillo, paloverde, desert evening primrose) and animals (the sidewinder, mountain lion, kangaroo rat), illustrated by Vincent Perez’s striking line drawings. The book also includes six relief maps.

Drylands is designed and produced in the grand tradition of fine art books. It gives continuing pleasure to those who delight in the splendors of the desert.

PHILIP HYDE’S landscape photographs have been exhibited nationwide. He is represented in several major photograph collections, and his work has appeared in books and magazines. He has written and collaborated on many books on the American West.

DAVID RAINS WALLACE has been writing about nature and conservation for almost ten years. He is the author of six books including The Klamath Knot, for which he was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for natural history writing in 1984.

Continued in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 3.”

What are your experiences in the desert? What does the desert mean to you?



  1. pj says:

    I have no desert experience except for driving through the Mojave in August 2010. It was so hot I didn’t dare step out of the car for fear of sinking right through the pavement.

    Interesting background on your dad’s book. I look forward to reading the next post.

  2. Hi PJ, thank you for your comment. I didn’t know you had little desert experience. While the Mojave can be amazingly hot, it’s more the lack of water than the heat that defines deserts, as you probably know. Often the desert can be very cold. You probably know that you wouldn’t have sunk through the pavement, though you might have sizzled a little, or scorched. People have been known to fry an egg on the road in some places. Talking about frying an egg on the asphalt is sort of the desert version of, ‘Why don’t we do it in the road?’

  3. I love that image, probably one of your dad’s favorites for me.

    The desert….. For me it is isolation, quiet, challenge, and hidden beauty. And it always serves as a bit of rebirth for me.

  4. Derrick, I like your description of desert and what it does for you. I always enjoy your desert stories too.

  5. Hi David, I have a copy of your fathers book in my edit room, within arms reach all the time. It is a wonderful source of inspiration to me. As for desert experiences, there is nothing quiet like the smell of sage early in the morning or the smell of hot pinion, juniper forest late in the day. Feels like home to me.

  6. That is so great, Randy. I’m glad you shared with me your affinity for Dad’s book. I believe it is the mark of a truly great photography book if the people who live in the place it illustrates love the book and keep it handy. As for the smell of sage, pinon or juniper, you are making me homesick for the desert. I lived in New Mexico for nine years 1992-2000. I also visited the desert with my parents often growing up. I “saw” the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe from my mother’s womb. I have sage, pinon and juniper in my blood. I can taste the dry dusty sage desert air now while writing this.

  7. Greg Russell says:

    This will be an interesting read, David, I’m looking forward to it!

    The desert is always an interesting place…and while my affinity is for the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, the Mojave is a really lovely place, and I’ve also always enjoyed my visits to the Sonoran as well. I agree with Derrick that it has a lot to do with the feeling of isolation when I am out there…

  8. Thank you, Greg. Though the desert does magnify it because of the wide open spaces and solitude in places, I believe you’re partly talking about the change that comes over people after being out in the non-motorized, non-mechanical, non-electronic world of any wilderness for 2-5 days or more. It is a feeling of great peace and awareness that would be our natural state as human beings if not for living in such a chaotic modern world. Edward Abbey talked about it in his biography written by Jack Loeffler that I quoted in the blog post, “Was Edward Abbey A Mystic?” https://landscapephotographyblogger.com/was-edward-abbey-a-mystic/

  9. Looking forward to reading more in number 3. I would like to find a copy of that book and sit down to get lost within the pages.

  10. Monte, glad you are looking forward to more from Drylands. The easiest and most reasonable way to get Dad’s book is to click on the link in the sidebar of this blog that goes to the Amazon page. Doing so also helps a wee bit to keep this blog going.

  11. I love nature and landscape photo. This so nice and amazing.

  12. Mark says:

    Beautiful shot with this post David. I don’t have much experience in the deserts, only a couple of visits in my lifetime so far. However, I have no doubts about what lured your father and so many others there.

  13. Thanks, Mark. “Lava, Flowers, Craters of the Moon, Idaho” is one of Dad’s most liked photographs. I agree, deserts never ceases to surprise.

  14. Hi David! Drylands is an inspiration and I’m happy that it is in my collection. I hope you’re doing well.

  15. Hi Michael. Good of you to come by and comment. I vaguely recall you perhaps mentioning having Drylands a few years ago. It is inspiring how many of today’s top large format photographers were inspired by Dad’s work, including you. In the photographs in Drylands and how they are presented, the subtle beauty of the desert stands out. Drylands does not rely on gaudy over-saturation of colors or unrealistic portrayals of the land in the most dramatic sunset or storm light, but revels in the simple, the quiet, even the bland and mundane to show us beauty that many might not usually notice, except for the trained eye like yours. I have appreciated your comments about color on other threads. Your thoughts have contributed to my thinking about how different Dad’s work is from much of what is done today in the desert Southwestern US and elsewhere.

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