Described as 'a writer in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and other self-educated seers' by the San Francisco Chronicle, David Rains Wallace turns his attention in this new book to another distinctive corner of California – its desert, the driest and hottest environment in North America. Drawing from his frequent forays to Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, Kelso Dunes, and other locales, Wallace illuminates the desert's intriguing flora and fauna as he explores a controversial, unresolved scientific debate about the origin and evolution of its unusual ecosystems.
Eminent scientists and scholars appear throughout these pages, including maverick paleobiologist Daniel Axelrod, botanist Ledyard Stebbins, and naturalists Edmund Jaeger and Joseph Wood Krutch. Weaving together ecology, geology, natural history, and mythology in his characteristically eloquent voice, Wallace reveals that there is more to this starkly beautiful landscape than meets the eye.
David Rains Wallace is the author of seventeen books, including Neptune's Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, A New York Times Notable Book; and The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, winner of the John Burroughs Medal.
"An intriguing account of California's deserts and the people who have explored, studied and theorized about them over the past two centuries. Those who want to learn more about these beautiful open spaces, their geologic and evolutionary history, and their plant and animal inhabitants will find this well-written book a useful guide [...] Wallace has interwoven historical, biological, and environmental threads to produce a fascinating account of the interesting theories that have been propounded about the California desert. Readers will come away with a better understanding of the desert's unique nature and of its geological and evolutionary past."
– Alan Graham, American Scientist
[An] erudite exploration of the "riddle" of the California desert [...] A compelling compare-and-contrast narrative. Whether Wallace is examining competing scientific theories or the popular attitudes toward the desert throughout the ages, he simultaneously educates and delights [...] Chuckwalla Land should finally retire the persistent myth of the desert as an environmental and intellectual wasteland."
"Wallace has succeeded in making the academic entertaining and accessible [...] A knowing and poetic look at the desert."
– David Cotner, Santa Barbara News-Press
"This book is a very well written and easily accessible to anyone interested in the history of science, whether they are attracted to arid land studies or not. Frankly, it is just a darn good read for anyone who enjoys natural history."
"Wallace draws from fields as varied as history, botany, and geology as he recounts his own experiences exploring the evolutionary mysteries of the deserts of southern California."
– Isle: Interdis Stds In Lit & Environ
"Wallace weaves science and mythology into a clear and entertaining story about the origin of California's deserts that invites the reader into a world of ancient mystery and modern revelation. This book will appeal to anyone who cherishes arid lands and their natural history."
– Bruce M. Pavlik, author of The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery
"David Rains Wallace explores the origins of the California desert with the endless curiosity of a naturalist, with the wit and wordplay of a fine essayist, and with the attention to detail of a lifelong scholar. He burrows toward the solution of the desert's riddle by following two centuries of science; in doing so, Wallace writes a unique account of both the ecology of the Desert Southwest and the biologists who have devoted their lives to untangling its evolutionary history."
– Stephen Trimble, author of The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin
"David Rains Wallace never fails to truly enter the world of which he writes. Here he tackles fiery heat, ancient lava flows, spiny plants, and scuttling reptiles, all in the service of asking some difficult "how's" and "why's". I learned a lot about places and critters I thought I knew well from this marvelous book."
– Harry Greene, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, author of Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature