Two hikers at Joshua Tree. Author Rubén Martínez discusses our relationship with the desert and why we keep returning to it.
Two hikers at Joshua Tree. Author Rubén Martínez discusses our relationship with the desert and why we keep returning to it. - 
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For most of us -- even those who live in Los Angeles -- the Southwest desert is an easy place to forget about. Automatic lawn sprinklers and air conditioning have a way of doing that. But in his new book, "Desert America," author Rubén Martínez is attempting to show the great desert of the Southwest for what it really is: vast, spiritual, beautiful, dark and newly political.

Martínez left Mexico City as a younger man, on the run from demons and mistakes -- and landed in Joshua Tree, Calif., back before it was the hipster burgh now associated with Coachella, Pappy & Harriets and desert chic. The Joshua Tree he lived in had a duality to it, a cognitive dissonance that juxtaposed the arrival of the creative class with military families and deep poverty.

"It's almost easy, if you're the tourist, to camp out for a night or two up there among the massive, otherworldly granite boulders and you feel like you're on another planet," says Martínez. "But if you spend more time there, and if you go into the town and go off the main strip, you start seeing that other desert. That military desert."

While he was in our studio, we asked Martínez to read an excerpt from his book, which you can listen to here:

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Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal