Desert Magic (Best of 2021)
Call it spiritual. Call it healing, mystical or whatever works for you. You can't deny the desert has something. The towering red rocks. Uncanny cacti. Whether you believe in vibes and vortexes or just feel awed by wonders of nature, the American desert holds what you seek. We made a list of favorite places for finding desert magic.
A dude ranch when Georgia O’Keeffe bought it in 1940, Ghost Ranch is now a retreat center—but just as arrestingly gorgeous as when the artist first fell in love with it. Saddle up for a trail ride to see where O’Keeffe sought inspiration, like Cerro Pedernal and the colorful cliffs of Piedra Lumbre. WILDSAM SANTA FE
Saguaro National Park, which encircles Tucson, is the best place to encounter its iconic namesake cactus. In the western district, the spiny sentinels have grown so densely that the Park Service calls it a cactus forest. Some grow into 200-year-old specimens with up to 25 arms, while others remain a single enormous spire—no one knows exactly why. A mystery to ruminate on while you wander. WILDSAM DESERT SOUTHWEST
High in the hills north of Joshua Tree National Park, Pioneertown feels like a Western movie set—with good reason: It was built in the 1940s as film location. Come evening, the place to be is Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace. Maybe it's the way the beer and ribs taste at the end of a hot, dry day, or the thrill of hearing big-name acts play in such an "out there" spot, but Pappy's has sustained its roadhouse magic throughout its nearly 40-year run. WILDSAM JOSHUA TREE
Tucked into the forest on a college campus, Dwan Light Sanctuary's orientation and geometry take into account the alignment of sun, moon and stars to make the most of the region’s beautiful light. Twelve prisms cast revolving rainbows around the meditative space. WILDSAM SANTA FE
Sedona has an undeniable aura. Yeah, we said it. Situated amid a veritable Vatican of red rock, the small town has long attracted pilgrims of all stripes—roll your eyes if you must, but glances at the surrounding spires do tend to inspire thoughts of land, spirit and sky. We recommend embracing the vibes up in the foothills at Enchantment, a renowned desert-luxe resort. On site, you'll find celebrated restaurant Tii Gavo. Your order: tamale bowl with mole-braised short ribs. WILDSAM DESERT SOUTHWEST
Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero uses her photographer's gaze to offer new perspectives on Indigenous peoples' lives, resilience and cultures. WILDSAM SANTA FE
In a land of precipitous views, Toroweap Overlook qualifies as superlative: 3,000 feet straight down. Get there on a long-haul, flat-inducing road across the Arizona Strip—high clearance and good tires required. The last few miles are particularly bone-jarring. Don’t neglect water and other supplies, in case you get stranded. The payoff? Unforgettable vistas of canyon and stark cinder cones. A perfect place to feel tiny and amazed. WILDSAM GRAND CANYON
For those wishing to navigate a boulder-strewn landscape, the Cap Rock nature trail is an easy sell. The trail is short and even-and wheelchair accessible-and the boulder piles are some of the strangest in Joshua Tree. The Cap Rock itself is a flat, precariously perched boulder that looms atop the boulder pile, an unlikely looking result of erosion in progress. Gram Parsons fans, take note: after his death at the Joshua Tree Inn, this is where two friends, after stealing Parsons’ casket, set fire to his body to fulfill a pact. WILDSAM JOSHUA TREE
Best known as a novelist-her first novel, Ceremony, came out in 1978-Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko beautifully depicts the spiritual power of the desert in a series of meditative personal essays.
Big Bend-and its absence of sound and movement-fill the soul. The towering, sienna-colored Chisos Mountains that rickrack the horizon give way to the lush, jade Rio Grande Valley. Up the river from Boquillas Canyon and the village of Boquillas, a restorative soak at the historic hot springs, where the original 1909 structure separates the 105-degree water from the Rio Grande’s much chillier current, rejuvenates and restores. WILDSAM TEXAS