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i've only been out west once, to las vegas last year, and when i was in vegas i pretty much stayed near the strip or near downtown. i have never driven through a desert, looked down at the desert from the plane (except at night; of course i didn't see anything), or even seen a desert in person. could some people here provide some pictures of the desert, towns in the desert, ghost towns in the desert (any of the several deserts there are), information and history on the desert, etc. i'm interested in the west right now. i'm studying it a little right now, and i am also planning another trip to vegas, which is really getting my blood going about being out west and experiencing the west.
 

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The desert? There are many things that can pop into my head from that word. Since I do live in Tucson, which is located in the desert, I do believe that I can take some pictures, and provide you with the usual "look" of it. I'll try to take some tommorow, but I doubt that I'll have the time. The thing that I've noticed from most cities in the desert, is that they have a tendency to sprawl and usually have less of an urban feel to them. This doesn't really bother me, yet I usually like to see some crouding of buildings and other such things.

:cheers1:
 

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thanks for any pictures you provide. what do many people out there thikn of the deserts? are they considered simply almost lke barren fields of dirt? are they viewed as scenic areas to be preserved? are they viewed in the same manner as woodlands are here in the east? i have heard of preserving pieces of the desert in urban areas, and not developing them. to me, this is kind of strange. i can see preserving woodlands here because trees take decades to grow, and they provide shade and other resources. if you preserve a small piece of the desert, is there anything more being preserved than just sand, scrubs, and yucca plants?
 

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Heh, yeah nothing like a dirt lot.... Anyways, the desert has a lot of different looks. When some one is preserving a part of it, its usually for the geological aspects... i.e., the Grand Canyon is preserved desert. Some really amzing rock and sand formations exist in the desert. As far as plant life goes, I was blown away at how alive and pretty the southern arizona dessert was in the winter.
 

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POLA said:
Heh, yeah nothing like a dirt lot.... Anyways, the desert has a lot of different looks. When some one is preserving a part of it, its usually for the geological aspects... i.e., the Grand Canyon is preserved desert. Some really amzing rock and sand formations exist in the desert. As far as plant life goes, I was blown away at how alive and pretty the southern arizona dessert was in the winter.
preserving geological features makes sense now. i would've never thought of it.

was it the somoran desert you drove through in southern arizona? i have heard good things about that desert. and what are the california deserts like?
 

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Phoenix and Tucson (especially Tucson) represent some of the more 'quintessential' desert urban areas in the country. Both are located in the high Sonoran Desert, which boasts substantially more lush natural desert vegetation than most other desert locales, like Palm Springs or Vegas, for example.

Springtime in the Sonoran Desert is one of the most beautiful things you'll see. Especially after a rainy winter, like it's experienced this past year.
 

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xzmattzx said:
could some people here provide some pictures of the desert, towns in the desert,
Here's some more deserty scenes from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Physical environments in the city range from lush tree canopies in the Mesilla Park neighborhood to desolate on the East Mesa. One think to keep in mind - Las Cruces is in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is much different than the Sonoran Desert environment of Phoenix and Tucson, and the Mojave Desert area around Las Vegas.























As a native of the Great Lakes region, there are two things that struck me the most the first time I saw the desert Southwest firsthand:

* Outside of rainy season, brown is the dominant color in the landscape, not blue. Of course, that changes throughout the day, and towards sunset the desert colors take on a reddish and purplish hue.

* You can see the horizon from just about any vantage point anywhere. When I was living in Cruces, those who were natives of the region told me that they felt clusterphobic whenever they're in the Northeast, because the dense tree cover makes it impossible to see the horizon from all but the highest vantage points.

Some other quirks about desert living:

* Most homes don't have air conditioning! Instead, they have evaporative coolers. Air is cooled by being pulled through pads that are constantly kept moistened. Swamp coolers are much cheaper to run than air conditioners, and they're just as effective except on the very hottest days. They also lose their effectiveness as humidity rises, so forget about using one in Delaware. You also have to keep a one window in the house cracked open for a swamp cooler to function properly, so a constant supply of cooled air can be kept flowing through the house.

* Many people don't have grass front lawns, but rather use patterns of volcanic rocks and desert plants in their place. In some Las Cruces neighborhoods, there is no artificial landscaping; your front yard is a spread of sagebrush and cactus. In New Mexico, turf lawns, usually supplemented with xeriscaping, are more common in areas closer to the Rio Grande Valley. Turf lawns turn dormant in the winter; they're brown for five or six months out of the year.

* There is far more temperature variation between daytime and nighttime; usually 25 to 30 degrees, and sometimes more. Typical July and August temperatures for Las Cruces is the low 100s in the middle of the day, and the mid-to-low 70s a couple of hours after sunset. The desert cools fast!

* If you have seasonal allergies like I do, your sinuses will open right up the moment you step off the plane. This might not be the case in Phoenix, though, where pollen-generating non-native plants are far more common.

* Very few houses have basements, although walk-out basements are increasingly common in some areas. Pre-WWII frame houses have crawl spaces; those built after the war are on a concrete slab.

* Most cars have custom-made carpeted dashboard covers. Stop using one for a year or so, and your dashboard will crack.

* There's urban sprawl, but it takes asomewhat different form. FOr example, in the Northeast, residential lots in middle-class subdivisions tend to be large The further west you go, subdivision lots get SMALLER. Here's an aerial of typical Cruces sprawl.



Why so dense compared to the Northeast, when there's so much land? There's point ib having a large backyard if you can't really enjoy it. It's quite uncomfortable walking around in your backyard, barefoot over volcanic rocks or the desert floor. In New Mexico, thick rock wall fences are standard equipment with a spec house, so there is a lot of privacy despite the more crowded subdivisions.

* There's a very distinct, strong odor to rain. You'll also be able to look up in the sky and actuallty see the rain falling from the cloudsn some areas, but not others. An overcast sky with drizzle, common in the Northeast, is extremely rare in the Southwest; it's either raining hard, or not raining at all. Thunderstorms are also louder and more common. Every ngiht during the summer, you'll see a lightning storm somewhere off in the distance.
 

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xzmattzx said:
thanks for any pictures you provide. what do many people out there thikn of the deserts? are they considered simply almost lke barren fields of dirt? are they viewed as scenic areas to be preserved? are they viewed in the same manner as woodlands are here in the east?
It depends on prevailing attitudes in the state and region. In Texas, desert areas are seen as disposable; the population in far west Texas is very sparse, and it's not as scenic - there are far fewer mountains. In New Mexico, more view deserts as areas that are very much alive and teeming with life, and something that should be kept in their natural state for as long as possible; development is a necessary evil. After all, where else will the new residents go?

The "keep almost everything on a lot in its natural state"-style developments common in Las Cruces and Santa Fe are very rare on the Texas side of the border. No paved driveways, no lawns, very little artificial landscaping - just a house in the middle of your own slice of the desert. With sewer, water, and buried telephone, electricity and cable lines, of course.



Arroyos in urban areas tend to be channelized in Texas, while in New Mexico the prevailing attitude if to leave them in their natural state, and situate development outside of the natural flood zone.

The desert is teeming with life, but it's also a far more delicate ecosystem because there is far less water. Manmade scars in the desert last decades longer than in the Northeast.

Many of the plants in the Chihuahuan -- sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, yucca and the like -- were once far less prevalent. Land was overgrazed in the early part of the 20th century, and other species found it easy to spread in the area where grass was consumed by cows. Light grazing doesn't hurt grasslands because it has time to heal and regrow. Because much of the land was federally owned, and leased to ranchers, there was no sense of stewardship, and no incentive to preerve the grasslands. In areas where heavy grazing never took place, grasslands still predominante; it looks more like Midwestern shortgrass prairie.

I highly suggest picking up a copy of Desert Solitare by Edward Abbey.

Sounder said:
^ The Organs are pretty sweet looking mountains. Las Cruces with its scenary, climate, & university is still relatively undiscovered it seems.
I agree. The major thing that's really keeping the city back, IMHO, is its proximity to El Paso and Juarez. It's on my list of places that will emerge as third-tier major cities before 2050.

Mesilla is quite expensive, but there's a lot of vacant land near the square that will never be developed; the lots been passed down through single families for generations, and they'd sooner keep it barren than cash out for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tradicion, after all. Every new major development, too, seems more upsccale than the last. In the 1980s, High Range was the shiznit, until Picacho Hills came along. Then Las Alamedas was built, with its narrow divided streets and extensive xeriscaping. Now it's Sonoma Ranch.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
thanks for the info. some of my responses:

i also noticed that brown tends to be the dominant color in the landscape. i guess this is to be expected in a arid climate. naturally, green is the dominant color here, since the east is a wet climate.

i liked those pictures of those really rocky mountains the most. the houses in those pictures also look nice. they blend into the landscape very well.

i don't like those wide roads with huge medians. it looks too big to me. i also don't like the lack of trees. i guess i'm the opposite of a claustrophobic. the area looks too wide open to be a populated area. i have the impression that a city or town with that much open space inside the city has a population of 2000 or less. maybe the stereotypical presentation of towns in the west reinforces that; it seems like there are only a couple towns out west that are made of more than one main road with a few side streets.

what's an arroyo?

i like the idea of owning a slice of the desert. i get the impression that it makes for a more isolated feel to the area. but i don't relly understand how it is different in texas. do they clear the desert shrubs? do they leave just dirt, or do they put their own plants in?
 

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mello said:
I believe an arroyo is like a wash, (a canyon that water runs through). They flood during a thunderstorm and form temporary rivers.
Exactly. See that brown path that runs from the top right to the lower left of this photo? That's an arroyo.

In southern New Mexico at least, arroyos are quite sandy. On dirt roads that run through an arroyo, if you were driving a normal car you quickly learned to back up and hit the arroyo at high speed, with enough momentum to take you through it without getting stuck. You also learn to never camp in an arroyo. The skies may be clear overhead, but the arroyo may be part of a watershed that is hundreds of square miles/kilometers in area. A storm may be taking place in the unseen distance, possibly sending a torrent of water through the watershed and the arroyo.

xzmattzx said:
i like the idea of owning a slice of the desert. i get the impression that it makes for a more isolated feel to the area. but i don't relly understand how it is different in texas. do they clear the desert shrubs? do they leave just dirt, or do they put their own plants in?
The mindset is a bit different. Since most of New Mexico is arid, the population as a whole seems to have a closer attachment with the desert than in Texas, where the desert is only a small part of that state's diverse landscape.

El Paso may be in the desert, but it is first and foremost a Texan city, despite being far removed from other large Texas cities Lots of concrete, lots of bllboards and high-rise signs, wide freeways with three lane frontage roads on each side, Whataburger, Lone Star Beer, brick ranch houses, a large military presence - it's essentially a smaller, more arid version of San Antonio; a Texas city that just happens to be in the desert. The residents of New Mexico's three dominant cities -- Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe -- on the other hand, think of their communites as desert cities, embracing the environment a bit more closely.

It's not that you won't find natural landscaping and earth-tone stucco surfaced houses in El Paso, or a well-watered and manicured front lawn in Las Cruces. (Some neighborhoods in Las Cruces, and many communities along the Rio Grande north of Albuquerque have very high water tables, and are naturally lush and green.) It's just that on the Texas side of the border, there's somewhat more shaping of the built and natural environment to make it seem more Texas-like. It's mostly cultural; there's green lawns, red brick houses, and lots of concrete impervious surface in Houston, Dallas and Austin, so why not El Paso? New Mexicans pride theselves in their collective dislike towards the neighboring Lone Star State, so there's little desire to recreate any aspect of Plano, Garland or Sugarland in suburban Albuquerque or Las Cruces. If you think about it, the TV show King of the Hill could easily take place in El Paso, but most definitely not Las Cruces.

Las Vegas, Nevada is hotter and more arid than Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but green front lawns in Sin City are the norm, not the exception. Why? Consider where many Vegas residents relocated from, and why they're living in Vegas now. The majority of people I know that moved to New Mexico did so because they want to live in a desert environment. Even if a job brought them there, they usually had a choice of relocating to other cities and states; they chose to take a job in New Mexico over North Carolina, Florida or Oregon because of the natural environment. In Las Vegas, new residents are moving there mainly to feed on the area's massive growth. For the most part, people move to Las Vegas mainly for the jobs, not to live in a desert. The warm weather of Vegas is seen as just a fringe benefit.
 

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The desert is really interesting since it's so different from most places people live. The plants are all different. No like.. maple trees and the like that many people are used to seeing in landscaped areas.
 
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