Desert Rocks Close Up

Rocks and More Rocks

Text and Photos by Dawn Nelson


Rocks - deserts have a lot of them. Actually, all environments have a lot of rocks. Dig down through the rich soil of a deciduous forest, or the thick mucky history of a peat bog, or even the sand of a beach, and you will eventually come to bedrock. Depending upon the environment, you may find plenty more rocks than just the common underlying bedrock sheet.

I grew up in Maine, which is strewn with the broken remnants of old mountains, ground down to rocks and discharged on the land by glaciers. Digging in Maine’s soil is a test of the will. And all those stone walls of Maine? Simply a place to deposit this year’s latest crop of rocks forced to the surface by the processes of freezing and thawing.

Rock in a hole

Most environments hide their rocks beneath layers of soil or shield them under a blanket of thick vegetation. A stream may scour the land away to reveal bare rock. A stony prominence may thrust upward through the trees, but the rocky heart of most environments lies hidden.

But the desert is different. The veneer of life is thinner. Desert life seldom hides the richness of the mineral earth. In the desert, rocks reign supreme. Desert rocks are sculpted, colored, moved, deposited and broken down by the relentless forces around them. Desert rocks seem to take on a life of their own. It is recorded in millions of years of resisting, and finally yielding, to the wind, sun and water.

Striped pockets

In desert rocks, you can read the story of the slow, patient progression of stone into sand, and then possibly even back again to stone. You see the fingerprints of an incomprehensibly ancient past, you can only imagine the whims an unfathomable distant future.

Rock pudding

Rock cheese

Minerals & Geology


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