Dr. Michel Digonnet

Desert Explorer & Photonics Scientist

Dr. Michel Digonnet

The solitude found on the dusty, dry trails of Death Valley stands out in stark contrast to the day-to-day life of Dr. Michel Digonnet, a fiber optics specialist.

Digonnet is the author of three of the most comprehensive hiking trail-guides ever written about Death Valley and the Mojave desert. “Hiking Death Valley” , “Hiking Western Death Valley” and Hiking the "Mojave Desert" provide information and opportunities for hikers to discover new parts of the famous park and the Mojave desert. The guidebooks include hiking trail descriptions, maps, mining history and information about the natural wonders found there.

Digonnet has had a passion for travel and exploration since he was a teenager. His travels have taken him throughout Europe and Africa and then overseas to North America - where he fell in love with American culture and the desert lands of the southwest. Digonnet’s attraction to the desert would seem an unlikely affection for a man born and reared in Paris, France, but three summers spent in North America during his early twenties found him exploring, and growing more profoundly intrigued by the desert's unique attractions.

Dr. Digonnet on cliff's edge

Moving to California in 1978, he earned his doctorate in fiber optics at Stanford University. Since then, he has spent most of his professional career at Stanford University’s Department of Applied Physics supervising the research activity of Ph.D. students and carrying out his own research in photonics - the science of light. Dr. Digonnet has made several key contributions to his field, including the invention of the fiber optic amplifier, a component that amplifies light inside a fiber and enabled the telecommunication revolution of the mid-1990s, in particular, the high-speed Internet. He has also been extensively involved in the development of the fiber optic gyroscope, now a critical part of the equipment airlines use to guide passenger planes safely. Dr. Digonnet is currently exploring new implications in the consideration of slow and fast light. Formerly thought to be constant, it now appears that light can be sped up or slowed, with profound ramifications for the interaction of matter and light.

When not working, Digonnet pursues his passion for nature and travel. He spends long weekends and vacations hiking and enjoying the outdoors. His love for nature and hiking has led him to the redwood forests, rolling-meadows and oak woodlands that characterize the area near his home in the San Francisco Bay. On his longer trips, Digonnet has explored the deserts of the world, including the Saharan desert areas, as well as the red rock country of southern Utah and northern Arizona, and Death Valley in the United States.

Wanderlust has carried Digonnet to many interesting places. Solitude and peace have accompanied him as he hiked remote desert trails. Hiking the trails of Death Valley on foot, documenting his journey, he has shared his knowledge with others who seek the same quietude in his trail-guides and writings.

If you also seek solitude, you will find the trails of Death Valley very rewarding. Along the meandering footpaths and in the valleys you will find a place and an experience where you can be close to nature, test your strengths and discover a land of extremes and diversity.

For more information on Dr. Michel Digonnet’s books click on the links below . . .

Hiking Death Valley - Originally published in 1997 and regularly updated since then, emerged from Digonnet’s years of exploring on foot in this stunning and wild region.

Hiking Western Death Valley - The first comprehensive guidebook dedicated to the fascinating and little-known valleys that form the western portion of North America’s largest desert national park - Panamint, Saline, and Eureka valleys.

Hiking the Mojave Desert - Mojave National Preserve protects 1.6 million acres of spectacular arid lands at the heart of the Mojave Desert. Part of the celebrated Great Basin province, it is a spellbinding region of mighty mountain ranges rising thousands of feet above vast inland basins.

Digonnet enjoys writing, and is currently working on a new hiking book on the Mojave National Preserve.

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Death Valley National Park
  • Proclaimed National Monument: Feb. 11,1933
  • Boundary changes: March 26,1937; Jan. 17,1952
  • Designated a Biosphere Reserve: 1984
  • Designated National Park: Signed into law October 31, 1994, the Desert Protection Act (DPA) added 1.3 million acres to DeathValley National Monument and promoted it to National Park status.
  • DPA also designated 3.1 million acres of the park as wilderness.

Click here for more about Death Valley.


Death Valley - Titus Canyon Video
As Titus Canyon Road in Death Valley reaches the foothills, it starts to climb and meander among the sagebrush and red rock outcroppings. The road becomes steeper and narrower as it approaches Red Pass, amply named for its red rocks and dirt. Enjoy the ride!

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