When the Rains Come
A Naturalist’s Year in the Sonoran Desert
John Alcock knows the Sonoran Desert better than just about anyone else, and in this book he tracks the changes he observes in plant and animal life over the course of a drought year. Combining scientific knowledge with years of exploring the desert, he describes the variety of ways in which the wait for rain takes place—and what happens when it finally comes.
The desert is a land of five seasons, featuring two summers—hot, dry months followed by monsoon—and Alcock looks at the changes that take place in an entire desert community over the course of all five. He describes what he finds on hikes in the Usery Mountains near Phoenix, where he has studied desert life over three decades and where frequent visits have enabled him to notice effects of seasonal variation that might escape a casual glance.
Blending a personal perspective with field observation, Alcock shows how desert ecology depends entirely on rainfall. He touches on a wide range of topics concerning the desert’s natural history, noting the response of saguaro flowers to heat and the habits of predators, whether soaring red-tailed hawk or tiny horned lizard. He also describes unusual aspects of insects that few desert hikers will have noticed, such as the disruptive color pattern of certain grasshoppers that is more effective than most camouflage.
When the Rains Come is brimming with new insights into the desert, from the mating behaviors of insects to urban sprawl, and features photographs that document changes in the landscape as drought years come and go. It brings us the desert in the harshest of times—and shows that it is still teeming with life.
“In this, his most personal and compelling book, Alcock takes readers along on a year’s worth of hikes into the desert he has studied and loved for thirty years, elucidating lives large and small, from the iconic saguaro cactus with upraised arms to shimmering clouds of flower flies hovering atop rocky ridges, as he and the desert wait for the blessing of rain and renewed life.”—Susan Tweit, author of Barren, Wild, and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert
“Fully illustrated with the author’s photographs of the Sonoran Desert biota and landscapes, these additions to the book carry the reader even further into the desert realm that Alcock so ably embraces with his words.”—Ray Turner, co-author of Sonoran Desert Plants: An Ecological Atlas
“Alcock’s acumen and easy cadence guide the reader through the passing of a year in the Sonoran Desert, where seasons actually do come and go and rainfall really matters. Alcock’s command of natural history is superb and engaging. Not all is well in Paradise, however. Can urban dwellers overcome their own nature-deficit disorder soon enough to spare the desert?”—Julio Betancourt, Senior Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey