Issue 22: The Desert Is Coming

Introducing Alta Journal’s desert issue.

the desert is coming
Alta Journal

Issue 22 of Alta Journal is a wide-angle look at California’s deserts. The “Desert Is Coming” package features everything from Death Valley tourism to biker bars to threatened tortoises. Alta’s contributors, photographers, and illustrators dug deep into the fertile terrain of some of the country’s hottest regions.

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.

In “‘This Place Belongs to You,’” Brad Rassler looks at the surging popularity of Joshua Tree National Park through the eyes of the rangers tasked with keeping 800,000 acres of wilderness pristine, even as millions of new tourists visit. If you’re thinking of heading to the desert and want to blend in with some of the locals, save a copy of Stacey Grenrock Woods’s “High Desert Handbook,” a humorous guide to looking and acting like a High Desert (or Hi Dez) dweller. (Hint: get a hat with a diameter of at least 22 inches.)

One such longtime desert resident is Ken Layne, creator and editor of the Desert Oracle, an erudite guide to the stranger corners of California’s deserts. Layne’s little publication attracted attention and subscribers during the pandemic—a challenge for what had been more or less a one-person operation. Layne documents his magazine’s rise in “An Ode to Desert Oracle.”

Clay Worst would be right at home in an issue of the Desert Oracle. A 93-year-old who has devoted his life to hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine, believed to be hidden in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, Worst tells his story to Geoffrey Gray in “The Cactus with 12 Arms.”

Want more? Louise Farr visits biker bars. Anisse Gross talks to Tim Shields, the “Desert Tortoise Defender.” Rob Schultheis and Gordon Wiltsie document the effects of drought. Chris Colin travels among Death Valley’s tourists. Robert Ito catalogs the desert’s biggest pop culture moments in photo shoots, music videos, TV shows, and movies. There’s even a special desert-themed piece of fiction, “Oasis, California,” by Susan Straight.

Rounding out the issue: Marcus Crowder on artist Mike Henderson, Joseph Giovannini on the Orange County Museum of Art, fiction by Peter Orner, and poetry by James Cagney.

Pick up an issue at your favorite independent bookstore or directly from our website.•

Matt Haber has previously worked as an editor at The Village Voice, The New York Observer, and The Atlantic.
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