Back in the Day: Desert Magazine once covered area’s people, places
By Steve Lech
Eighty years ago this month, a publication was born that changed the way people looked at the desert.
Titled simply “Desert Magazine,” this periodical was the brainchild of Randall Henderson, who hoped to educate people that the desert was not simply a large expanse of wasteland filled with death and heat.
In 1936, Henderson and his friend J. Wilson McKinney, both veterans of various newspapers, were camping in the Santa Rosa Mountains when they came up with the idea of starting a magazine focusing on the people, places, events, flora and fauna of that oft-derided area. They would cover the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico.
The cover of the first issue of Desert Magazine, which debuted 80 years ago this month.
Henderson and McKinney set up shop in El Centro. Their first edition came out in November 1937. This first edition included a poem called “The Desert: God’s Garden of Peace” by Desert Inn owner Nellie Coffman, an article by Henderson titled “He Helps Keep the Chuckawalla Desert Dry” about “Desert Steve” Ragsdale, several photos, and the beginning of a long series of tall tales by a character named “Hard Rock Shorty,” who reported from the front of the Inferno Store in Death Valley.
The new magazine was an instant success at a time when many Western-style magazines, mostly focused on the Hollywood version of the west, did not last long. Henderson was adamant that Desert Magazine capture the “feel” of the desert. He rejected several manuscripts that came to him over the years that appeared too academic, too opinionated or that just didn’t do justice to the desert.
Over the years, many now-famous researchers of local history, flora and fauna, and other aspects of the desert wrote regularly for Desert Magazine.
Some included Dr. Edmund Jaeger (biology professor from Riverside City College), […]