A series of visits to nine different desert areas in the American West and Southwest, by the author of Night Life (1989), etc. Over an 18-month period, logging 25,000 miles, Kappel-Smith recorded her observations of life and death in the desert, and made line drawings of everything she saw, from animals to the cacti and dunes. Visiting the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, where she spent time with the present residents, and the ruins of the Anasazi (an unknown people) in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, Kappel- Smith attempted to record what life was and is like in these areas, even establishing a new measure of speed along the way--``bpm,'' or bats por minuto, the rate at which 250,000 bats exit Carlsbad Caverns. She visited Devil's Mole in Nevada, a pool of water the depths of which no one has yet plumbed--although some have tried and disappeared. She spent the night in a near-ruined hotel in Silver City, Idaho, a historic mining town in the mountains: The hotel has no linen, so visitors have to use sleeping bags. She also hunted down prospectors and recorded their conversations. Kappel-Smith's descriptions are precise (``The rim of the sky is the dusty blue of bleached jeans''), but she seems more comfortable with the plants and animals than with the characters she meets. There's something of a distancing effect when it comes to people, but, otherwise: a very well-done wilderness diary.