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Know the West

Nevada’s desert beauty

  On the 400-square-mile playa at the heart of northeastern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, the terrain is so flat that you’re sometimes better off looking at the GPS unit on your dashboard than at the road in front of you. Though you might run into locals enjoying the obscure sport of "land sailing," or into temporarily transplanted city folk at the annual Burning Man Festival, it’s generally so lonely, and so dry, that you’d better carry enough gas and water to get you from one end to the other.

The Black Rock Desert is a brief, elegant visual and verbal meditation on one of the West’s most mysterious landscapes. Fox, the author of several books about the arid West, and Klett, a respected landscape photographer, bring this odd part of the world to life in a few dozen pages and some well-chosen moments. One night, freshly arrived at camp, they spend long minutes wandering around with their eyes closed. They know they can walk in circles indefinitely without fear of tripping; in the Black Rock, there’s precious little to stumble on.

The Black Rock Desert, William L. Fox, with photographs by Mark Klett, University of Arizona Press, 2002. 90 pages, 15 black-and-white photographs. Softcover, 6 inches by 7 inches: $13.95.