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Image of article cover - "A Place in the Sun"
Photo of Mojave Desert, "A Place in the Sun"
By Bibi Booth, Richard Brook, Elizabeth Rieben, and Elizabeth Wooster

For the Classroom

To the north I looked out over the Mojave Desert... from this point a wilderness of mountains, arid, aerial, almost phantasmal. "Come," they seemed to say," we are waiting for you, have waited since eternity began."



A World Apart

A fter hundreds of years of exploration, the Mojave Desert remains an emblem of tantalizing emptiness, the quintessential American desert. Throughout its existence, the Mojave has been a stark and inhospitable habitat, suitable for only the most stalwart plant and animal species and the most resourceful of human beings. As one Mojave author put it, "To define the scenery as 'breathtaking' doesn't explain exactly how it takes your breath away: by sitting on your chest and pressing on your head."

The most vulnerable and symbolic of America's deserts, the Mojave has long been viewed as a parched, endless wasteland--perfect for the dumping of society's discards. In fact, during World War II, General Patton's soldiers, training in the Mojave for North African desert missions, referred to the Mojave as "the place that God forgot." Today a new attitude celebrates the Mojave as a rich, complex world of open space and a haven for humans seeking refuge from civilization.

The Mojave Desert is a fragile, 125,000 km 2 , Ohio-sized landscape spread over southern Nevada, western Arizona, southwestern Utah, and one-fourth of California. Ecologically, the Mojave was once considered a transition between the Colorado Desert, the Great Basin, and the Sonoran Desert. It is now recognized as a separate desert, largely because of the many distinctive plant species that live there. This unique region stretches from the outskirts of Los Angeles to beyond Las Vegas, encompassing such classic American features as Route 66 and Death Valley.

The paradoxical Mojave is at once delicate and resilient, exotic yet within a day's drive for 40 million people, desolate yet home to thousands of remarkable species.