Some of the most compelling places are also the harshest. Take this view of the sand dunes of Death Valley, taken by talented photographer John Bruckman. This is the worst part of the Mojave Desert–lower, hotter, and drier than any other spot in the country, yet it has a subtle beauty this image captures so well. With the majority of us living in cities or suburbs, these open, empty spaces call out to us.
They certainly do to me. When I moved from the leafy upstate New York to southern Arizona for university, I discovered what people really mean when they talk about America’s wide open spaces. They set you free, and they can kill you if you’re not prepared, yet somehow their deadliness only adds to the feeling of freedom.
America’s badlands remind us that life can cling to even the bleakest of landscapes, that the empty places can sometimes be those most worth visiting.