Coddled Desert Beauty


The grounds of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum are a perfect embodiment of the best bits of the desert. A refuge of sorts, it allows the plants some protection that the exposed desert wilderness doesn’t afford. There are plantings and flowers that are maintained and kept in presentably perfect form, shielded from the unbridled harshness of the wild desert. These specimens shine here, allowing visitors to see how glorious the flora can be when given a bit of coddling and care. Don’t allow my clunky prose to get in the way, however. The words of John Van Dyke are far more compelling.

The morning is still and perfectly clear… How cool and crystalline the air! In a few hours the great plain will be almost like a fiery furnace under the rays of the summer sun, but now it is chilly. And in a few hours there will be rings and bands with scarves of heat set wavering across the waste upon the opalescent wings of the mirage; but now the air is so clear that one can see the breaks in the rocky face of the mountain range, though it is fully twenty miles away… – ‘The Desert’ by John Van Dyke

How pale-blue the Lost Mountains look under the growing light. I am watching their edges develop into broken barriers of rock, and even as I watch the tallest tower of all is struck with a bright fawn color. It is the high point to catch the first shaft of the sun. Quickly the light spreads downward until the whole ridge is tinged by it, and the abrupt sides of porphyry begin to glow under it. It is not long before great shafts of light alternating with shadow stretch down the plain ahead of me. The sun is streaming through the tops of the eastern mountains and the sharp pointed pinnacles are cutting shadows in the broad beam of light. – ‘The Desert’ by John Van Dyke

That beam of light! Was there ever anything so beautiful! How it flashes its color through shadow, how it gilds the tops of the mountains and gleams white on the dunes of the desert! In any land what is there more glorious than sunlight! Even here in the desert, where it falls fierce and hot as a rain of meteors, it is the one supreme beauty to which all things pay allegiance… the chief glory of the desert is its broad blaze of omnipresent light. – ‘The Desert’ by John Van Dyke

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