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Deserts: The Beauty of Austerity

Though they are often thought of as desolate places, deserts around the world possess a special beauty and teem with all kinds of interesting life. Desert landscapes serve as a primary attraction in some of these places, where people come from far away to take in the dry scenery.

Valley of Fire, Nevada

When they first hear of the Mojave Desert’s Valley of Fire State Park, located 50 miles from Las Vegas, visitors shouldn’t think of a desolate, flat landscape. It’s anything but that. There, adventurers enjoy some of the most spectacular rock formations in the country.

One of the most popular sites is Arch Rock, where wind, rain and time have weathered the rock into a natural arch, too fragile for visitors to walk on. Other attractions include Balanced Rock; The Beehive, which is sandstone resembling beehives; and the petrified wood now turned to fossils. “Hiking is most common, plus camping, photography, wildlife viewing, horseback riding and cycling, too,” said park ranger Chris Johnson.

“We greet a wide variety of people, such as hiking clubs and tourists from Las Vegas out for the day,” Johnson said. “We see European visitors, especially from Germany and France.” Johnson said the park doesn’t have a large marketing budget. “The place has really gotten popular through the Internet and word of mouth,” he said.

El Paso, Texas

A desert with mountains that turn shades of vibrant orange, purple and pale green, depending on the light, with big vistas, gorgeous weather with 300 days of sunshine a year and a breathtaking sunset nearly every night: That’s desert life in El Paso, Texas.

El Paso is on the westernmost edge of Texas where New Mexico and Old Mexico meet. The culture is more than 400 years old, with influences from the Spaniards, Native Americans, Mexicans and American Cowboys.

“We market ourselves as a destination for adventure seekers,” said Leesy McCorgary, tourism marketing manager for Destination El Paso. “We have the only urban mountains in Texas and are home to Hueco Tanks, world-renowned for rock climbing.”

El Paso is a stopover for most traveling groups that generally stay one or two nights. “Groups are usually in the 50-to-70 age bracket and are interested in spending a few hours in the downtown area and having a meal before they depart,” said McCorgary.” A visit to the urban Franklin Mountains State Park is also a group option.


Would you travel all the way to Jordan to see a desert when the United States has plenty of desert landscapes of its own? That’s what thousands of Americans do as part of their trips to Jordan.

“We market deserts in all our strategies,” said Janine Jervis, deputy director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. “When we speak of the desert, it incorporates culture. The Bedouin people have been desert nomads for centuries. That makes it unique. Then there’s the adventure piece, especially in Wadi Rum, with rock climbing, Jeep and 4×4 excursions, camel trekking and hot-air-balloon rides.” The acclaimed 1962 movie “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed in Wadi Rum, as was a portion of the recent film “The Martian.”

History is inescapable. “The entire country is an open-air museum,” said Jervis. “You trek through desert and stumble across a 10,000-year-old Byzantine church.”

Hospitality is embedded in the culture. If you meet a Bedouin family, you’ll likely be invited to their home for tea or a meal.