In Memory of “Mr. Desert”

Randall Henderson

Randall Henderson

RANDALL HENDERSON, founder of Desert Magazine and a man who influenced and enriched the lives of untold thousands of desert dwellers, passed away July 4 at the age of 82.

His death ended an active career of more than 60 years during which he covered the deserts of the Southwest as a roving reporter. He described his experiences in incisive and poignant articles which appeared in the magazine he founded 33 years ago at an age when most men are planning to retire.

When he reached his 70th year in 195K, Randall sold Desert Magazine to devote his time to writing books and participating in conservation and desert protective projects.

His two books, On Desert Trails and Sun, Sand and Solitude are considered desert lore classics. At the time of his death he was writing a book on the Coachella Valley and Palm Desert area.

As editor of Desert Magazine, Randall was a creator of writers. He worked patiently with people whom he thought had talent and a feeling of the desert. Well-known authors and artists whose bylines first appeared in Desert include John Hilton, Russ Leadabrand, John D. Mitchell, Dr. Edmund Jaeger, Walter Ford, Harold Weight and Nell Murbarger among many others. He was a personal friend of Senator Barry Goldwater whose byline has also appeared in Desert Magazine.

He was known throughout the West as a compassionate man whose only intolerance was of those who desecrated or maligned the desert he so loved. One of his favorite quotations was from Naturalist John Muir:

Everybody needs beauty as well as, bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature way heal and cheer and pipe strength to body and soul alike.

Commenting on the above passage for a profile I did on Randall in the March, 1964 issue of Desert, he said:

“That was true when John Muir lived. It is a truth of even greater significance today, for these are confusing times. While humans push and crowd and burn themselves out in a crazy stampede for more profits and higher wages and the satisfaction of personal vanities, Nature goes along in her own serene way, undisturbed by the petty bickerings of the passing parade of homo sapiens.”

An insight into Randall Henderson, the man and philosopher, is best gained from his now famous editorial, There Are Two Deserts, which appeared in the first issue of Desert Magazine in November, 1937.

One is a grim desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insects, of vicious thorn-bearing plants and trees, and of unbearable heat. This is the desert seen by the stranger speeding along the highway, impatient to be “out of this damnable country.” It is the desert visualized by those children of luxury to whom any environment is unbearable which does no! provide all the comforts and services of a pampering civilization. It is the concept fostered by fiction writers who dramatize the tragedies of the desert for the profit it will bring them.

But the stranger and the unit idled see only the mask. The other Desert—the real Desert—is not for the eyes of the superficial observer, or the fearful soul or the cynic. It is a land, the character of which is hidden except to those who come with friendliness and understanding. To these the Desert offers rare gifts: health-giving sunshine—a sky that is studded with diamonds—a breeze that bears no poison-—a landscape of pastel colors such as no artist can duplicate— thorn-covered plants which during countless ages have clung tenaciously to life through heat and drought and wind and the depredations of thirsty animals, and yet each season send forth blossoms of exquisite coloring as a symbol of courage that has triumphed over terrifying obstacles.

To those who come to the Desert with friendliness it gives friendship: to those who come with courage, it gives new strength of character. Those seeking relaxation find release from the world of man-made troubles. Tor those seeking beauty, the Desert offers nature’s rarest artistry. This is the Desert that men and women learn to love.

The name of Randall Henderson will continue to be synonymous with the Real Desert as long as there are shifting sands of time.

From the September, 1970 issue of Desert Magazine.