I've spent a lot of time in the deserts of the Western United States, including the Mohave, Black Rock and Sonoran Deserts. Also on the high desert country of southwest Colorado, the Owens Valley and eastern Oregon. A land scorched, minimal and simmering with life leaves many impressions.


Out on the high desert alone
well north of Winnemucca but south
of Guano Dry Lake,
you hear voices.

Don't matter that no one's around
and you ain't talkin'.
Don't matter that no one walks
the purple-brown buttes.
Don't matter even that the ceaseless wind
rustles the avocado-green sagebrush.
Still you hear voices.

Voices do speak.
Quietly still, they speak.
You turn and turn and turn
searching for who spoke,
lips parched, skin dry, eyes staring wide.
No one's there.
Still you hear the voices.

Thirst on the high desert will do that to a man.
But what's worse is when a man
empties out his canteen
just so he can hear again
the still voices.

--T. Jackson King, 1996


Camping out
just west of Denio Junction,
a nowhere place in the high desert country
not far from Alkali Flat,
suggests arrival at the outer portal
of Milton's Paradise Lost.

And yet . . .
purple-brown lava buttes,
clumps of yellow-green sagebrush,
and shimmering salty white
dry lakes,
speak with a silent voice

Nothing moves, nothing speaks, little lives,
and yet . . .
the high desert shouts joyously
to those with staring eyes,
parched lips,
fevered minds,
and hope newfound,

--T. Jackson King, 1996


There is a flame in the desert
that burns without wood, pitch or oil.
By day and by night it flames
burgundy-red and solar-yellow,
hidden deep among the sandstone cliffs
of Cedar Mesa, not far from Grand Gulch
and a bit south of Canyonlands Park.

Fingers of the Colorado River once carved
this stone reliquary ancient and firey,
its banded rocks tan, red and yellow
which rear up to a sky so blue
it aches the eyes and makes dizzy
those not already enchanted
by red stone flames
that burn in waves shimmering,
their hot tongues rising as the solar boat rides higher
in the cloudless sky Southwestern.

It is a place to enter carefully and delicately,
as if walking on crystal glass red and yellow,
It is most of all
a place tall with desert flames
that burn in the mind,
sear the soul,
and leave behind ashes
white as snow.

--T. Jackson King, 1994

Copyright retained by T. Jackson King 2009