The Mojave Desert blankets Southern Nevada, Southern Utah and Death Valley, California. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s this immense eerie moonscape often promised much but delivered little to most who settled it on a bet, a chance, a new start, a lusty pipe dream. No, ‘settled’ is inaccurate. The Mojave Desert I know is inhabited but untamed, barren but lush, wind swept, silent. It is home to deadly snakes, Tarantulas, Scorpions. Roaming herds of wiry mustangs trace their heritage back to Arabian horses left behind by Spanish soldiers of the late 1600’s. Burrows wander the back hills. Their ancestors were set loose by discouraged miners who had given up the search for gold. The Mojave is a land of extremes. In winter nights are frigid, yet afternoons are often tee shirt warm. Summer in the Mojave is hellish hot, dry, wind blown. The healthiest, most robust explorer will completely dehydrate in one day and won’t survive the night without water. This desert is inhabited by a rugged breed of men and women. Some are part desert rat, others are part hermit, part cowboy, part four wheel drive explorer.
The Southern Utah desert is speckled with miniscule towns; nests of simplicity and silence. In the small bedroom community of Hurricane for instance, the police consider it the high light of their watch to capture a loose steer on the road to Shivwits. Their version of a domestic dispute is a stand off between a wayward coyote and German Shepherd protecting its back yard turf. The county jail is placed here and is aptly named Purgatory. The Pine Valley Mountains and Hurricane Cliffs separate the low desert from the highlands of Utah further north and east. St. George is sparsely peopled with a homogenous mixture of unassuming Mormons, middle class California retirees and ex-Las Vegans who refuse to drink Utah’s state sanctioned 3.2 beer. St. George is only 20 miles from the Utah border. A sling shot’s range from their former 24 hour Vegas habits; 5% beer, 101 proof Wild Turkey Whiskey, Ferris wheels, slot machines.
Death Valley, California boasts the lowest point below sea level in the United States, 282 feet, and not much else. The Panamint Mountains to the west separate Death Valley from the rest of California. It’s best to visit this dry flat land in the winter when the temperatures briefly dip below the 100’s. This trip I traveled through in August when the temperatures peaked at 117 degrees and the winds blew at 40 miles per hour.
Southern Nevada, at the lower tip of the Nevada Great Basin is littered with decaying boom/bust ghost towns given somewhat whimsical names like Bullfrog, Rhyolite, Searchlight, Lathrup Wells, Cactus Springs, Carrara. Many towns are nothing more than nostalgic land marks on tattered outdated topographical maps. Visit some and you’ll find no evidence they existed. Other towns aren’t completely dead. They still struggle on, teetering up and down in population as the fortunes of gold and silver mining rise and fall with the fluctuating greed level on Wall Street. The Mojave Desert encompasses approximately 43,000 square miles in three States. In that grand area only one large city has blossomed and appears determined to survive--Las Vegas, the largest boom town of them all. I’ve lived here twenty three years. I’ve seen it sprout high rise wings and morph in character from a mob run, anything goes small city, to a mega-resort play ground catering to civilized adult appetites.