12/09/2013 01:41 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2014

The Magic of the American Southwest

"The desert is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical. Its forms are bold and suggestive. The mind is beset by light and space, the kinesthetic novelty of aridity, high temperature, and wind. To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality." - Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Esthetics of Nature

When Christopher McCandless (in Into the Wild) writes to his friend "Ron Franz" in April 1992, encouraging his friend to go out and see the beauty and joy that God has placed all around us, he suggests: "start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West."

And it's true. The stark contrast in landscape, the extreme colors and conditions, and the sheer awesomeness of it all makes Arizona, Utah, and the American southwest something of a dream wonderland -- physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical. And to truly feel the desert wind in your bones and be hypnotized by the glowing streaks of stars painted in the black, night sky, you must be out in it. Forget the hotels and the canned tours swarming with tourists in tube socks. This trip does not have to be expensive. Take a tent, find a quiet place in the empty vastness, and soak the unbelievable beauty in America's backyard.

The American Southwest