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Our Founder's Vision

In 1937, Randall Henderson created the now-legendary Desert Magazine. For its first issue, he wrote an essay that asked readers to look beyond the desert’s superficial hostility to its true nature, the one filled with an astonishing diversity of life, beauty and wonder. Revealing this side of the desert remained the mission of Desert magazine for the 21 years of Randall’s editorship, and he pursued the same mission when he helped to found the Desert Protective Council in 1954, serving as President and Executive Director during its early years.

Today, we carry on that same tradition of encouraging appreciation and preservation of the true desert. As that view of deserts as wastelands has morphed into one of deserts as solar energy stripmines and motorized playgrounds, it is even more important to promote a vision of the “other desert,” the one that appeals to those with “a bit of poetry in their souls.” It is with pride that we reprint here an excerpt from Randall’s first statement of the importance of desert places, taken from the version that appeared in his book, On Desert Trails, Today and Yesterday (Westernlore Press, 1961).

There are two deserts: One is a grim, desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insects, of vicious thorn-covered plants and trees and unbearable heat. This is the desert seen by the stranger speeding along the highway, impatient to be out of the “damnable country.” It is the desert visualized by those children of luxury to whom any environment is intolerable which does not provide all the comforts and luxuries of a pampering civilization. It is the concept fostered by fiction writers who dramatize the tragedies of the desert because there is a market for such manuscripts.

But the stranger and the uninitiated see only the mask. The other desert - the real desert - is not for the eyes of the superficial observer or the fearful soul of a cynic. It is a land which reveals its true character only to those who come with courage, tolerance and understanding. For these, the desert holds rare gifts: a health-giving sunshine; a sky that after the sun goes down is studded with diamonds; a breeze that bears no poison; a landscape of pastel colors such as no artist can reproduce; thorn-covered plants which during countless ages have clung tenaciously to life through heat, drought, wind and the depredations of thirsty animals, and each season send forth blossoms of exquisite coloring as symbols of courage that triumphed over appalling obstacles.

To those who come to the desert with tolerance it gives friendliness; to those who come with courage it gives new strength of character. Those seeking relaxation find in its far horizons and secluded canyons release from the world of man-made tensions. For those seeking beauty the desert offers nature’s rarest artistry. This is the desert that has a deep and lasting fascination for men and women with a bit of poetry in their souls.