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Dry Heat By Steve Brown

11/09/2012 12:35PM ● Published by Denise Brown

I love exploring the desert. All of it. We are blessed with an impressive and diverse range of things to do and see here, and for those of us who can’t get enough, we’re in no danger of running out of what we crave anytime soon. That said, the desert, as a travel destination, is the most threatened it has ever been in its history. Funding cuts are destroying our state and national parks, scavengers are looting historical sites for recyclable metals and things to sell to collectors, industrial scale solar and wind projects and the resultant power corridors are not only destroying desert wildlife, habitat, and Native American cultural and sacred sites, but are also eliminating the vast open—and wild—vistas that draw visitors from around the world, while development of everything from military bases and hydroelectric power projects to enormous garbage dumps and water mining is encroaching on every aspect of all that is good here.

It is ironic that by the horribly erroneous and ignorant belief that the desert is a lifeless wasteland, humans may wind up turning the desert into the barren badlands that only previously existed in the minds of those who didn’t know the real desert. The real desert is filled with life, life that takes many extraordinary forms, and we are, by all accounts, murdering it. Whether it’s slaughtering foxes with distemper spread by the use of contaminated coyote urine as a “border” to keep the foxes out of a solar power project site, or by destruction of prime desert tortoise habitat, pushing the tortoise inevitably toward practical extinction in the wild where once it thrived, it is us—people—who are doing this.

As one current example, the Cadiz water mining project stands to leave the seeps and springs of nearby desert lands, including those in the Mojave National Preserve, dry. Perhaps those water levels will be studied, but the populations of animals reliant upon those seeps and springs are likely to die of before any remediary action could be implemented effectively. But Orange County’s lawns will be green and their car will be washed clean—gleaming like bones in the desert. How much devastation needs to take place before we stop selling our souls—and the souls of places that do not belong to us and are not for selling—for dollars? When do we learn that things that have value can be priced in dollars and cents, and things that are invaluable, the treasures of this world which are priceless and irreplaceable, cannot be valued by an arbitrary monetary bounty set upon them?Those of us, and there are many, who have experienced intense personal loss, may understand better what value invaluable things may possess. After all, what price would you pay to see your dead loved one for one more day? How much of your bank account would you part with to see their smile, hear their laughter, or to hold them in your arms again? When you know the void left in your life by the absence of one you love, you lose much, but gain one thing: perspective.

So what will we have lost when the night sky is gone, the vast unspoiled vistas look like parking lots, when the migrating songbirds no longer arrive in large numbers but ones and twos, when species pass out of existence, when we actually succeed in making the desert devoid of life, when we cut it up and scrape it and bomb it and suck it dry and take from it until all it is worth is space for another wind turbine or garbage dump?

Maybe, I love the desert too much. Maybe I’m not a good tourism salesman because I think you should come visit the desert and get a taste of what it has to offer because it may not be around that much longer. Maybe, I hope you’ll fall in love with it too, and somehow, we’ll save some of it, as corny as it sounds, for our children and grandchildren, who may, by then, come to realize that a dollar is truly a very poor measure of the honest worth of something as deeply beautiful as this desert.

Culture, Travel, In Print joshua tree desert travel issue cultural
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