Beloved Artist-Adventurer Obi Kaufmann Takes Readers on a Journey into the Heart of the Desert

The San Francisco Chronicle #1 bestselling author of the canonical California Field Atlas returns with an epic, forward-looking exploration of the state’s arid eastern regions.


BERKELEY, CALIF.—With climate breakdown heating up and desertification looming over the horizon, Obi Kaufmann leads curious adventurers on a voyage into the sage-and-ocher landscapes of the American West’s world-famous desert regions this fall in his revelatory and sumptuously illustrated new volume The Deserts of California: A California Field Atlas. As philosophical as it is geophysical, this journey blends science and art in Kaufmann’s signature style to throw into relief ecological insights greater than either might yield alone. Through expressionistic mapmaking, wildlife renderings, and geographic conservation guides, Kaufmann explores the marvels of and threats to these resilient yet sensitive ecosystems.

Featuring over 400 watercolors, this epic tome blazes a trail through the sun-scorched deserts of Sonora, Mojave, Colorado, and Great Basin and the many micro-ecosystems dwelling therein, from the arid to the alpine. With a naturalist’s devotion, Kaufmann articulates through paintbrush and pen stroke the beauty and temerity of desert life. The iconic flora of palm trees, sagebrush, and creosote and the hardy wildlife that scurry, slither, saunter, and soar across these stark and sublime tableaus take center stage in these pages. Written from an anticipatory perspective, Kaufmann meditates on the future of these rugged lands, vulnerable to a variety of injuries from urban incursion. From the gentrivacation of Joshua Tree National Park to the extraction of precious groundwater to the impacts of sound, light, garbage, and plastic pollution, Kaufmann explores what stories should be told about our rights, our responsibilities, and our relationship to the more-than-human world with wonder, sobriety, and hope.

The Deserts of California presumes that hope, like healing, relies on time,” writes Kaufmann. “If there is time, there is hope. Although every desert habitat type is threatened, very little of it is yet extinct. Despite the complexity of the threat, everywhere there is precedent for resurgence.”

Of a piece with his best-selling books The Forests of California (2020) and The Coasts of California (2022), The Deserts of California (October 2023) rounds out Kaufmann’s expansive California Lands Trilogy. Individually and collectively, these volumes set out to transform entrenched colonialist attitudes toward the American West, and transform our concept of nature from a resource for extraction to a shared and cherished inheritance.

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Obi Kaufmann is the author of The California Field Atlas (2017, #1 San Francisco Chronicle bestseller), The State of Water (2019), The Forests of California (2020), and The Coasts of California (2022), all published by Heyday. When he is not backpacking, you can find the painter-poet at home in the East Bay, posting trail paintings at his handle @coyotethunder on Instagram. His speaking tour dates are available at, and his essays are posted at

A Note from Obi on the California Lands Trilogy and Other Works

With the publication of The Deserts of California, my journey into the living heart of California, a journey that has given rise to what is rather informally called the California lands trilogy— exploring the forests, coasts, and now deserts of the West Coast—becomes a completed vision. 

I set out on this journey with my first book, The California Field Atlas, in 2015. My intention was to explore the grand systems of earth, air, fire, and water, and to describe the context of these systems across the body of California’s world-famous landscape. To get to what is the California Field Atlas series I had to dig deep into the water infrastructure of the state and understand the storage, usage, and conveyance of California’s most precious resource. I did that in my second book, The State of Water (2019). I was shocked to find that my third book, The Forests of California (2020), was as much a descriptive journey into California’s evolutionary past as much as it was a catalog of the state’s arboreal ecology. Expanding on this idea of temporality, my fourth book, The Coasts of California (2022), was an ecological snapshot of the contemporary conditions that dynamically influence California right now, as the many bottlenecks of the twenty-first century seem to narrow and become more acute and threatening. 

The Deserts of California (2023) is an exploration of the future, where the big questions of what saving nature actually means are brought into focus. California’s deserts are paradoxically as fragile as they are resilient, and they represent the greatest challenge humanity faces in the emerging Anthropocene. Although it may be that in the desert we are faced with the terrifying dilemma of having to sacrifice nature in order to save it, if we flip the script and approach the future from a different angle, where humanity and nature aren’t separate concepts, a hopeful vision emerges. Based on a reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world, this vision begins with a nuanced understanding of biodiversity and ecology, where ancient wisdom and scientific innovation conjoin to not only paint a more beautiful future, but also tell a better story about the determining role our species has in making that future a reality.