The work of desert author Byrd Baylor has been celebrated by nature lovers and desert dwellers for over 60 years. The 93-year-old has published over 30 children’s books and one novel, as well as countless essays that she and her family now hope to publish in a book-length collection. Her words are also at the center of The Desert Dwellers Education Program, a project that aims “to encourage generations of desert dwellers to become life-long learners of resilient Sonoran Desert wisdom to support ecological heath essential for community wellness and vitality.”
Twenty years ago, at Las Lomas Ranch, a hub for artists and desert lovers in the Tucson Mountains, Byrd Baylor had a tiny rental, the smallest one on the property, which was comically and aptly named “One Door.” One of her neighbors was Skye Siegel, a real estate agent and desert enthusiast, and the creator of 40 Facts Every Desert Dweller Should Know, a self-published brochure that led to her position as the community outreach coordinator for Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ). Recently, Skye has been leading projects to infuse the wise words of her former neighbor with Pima County’s desert education and conservation programming.
The Desert Dwellers Education Program currently highlights a 24” x 36” fine art poster created by artist Paul Mirocha. The poster features a mandala, inspired by the Hohokam petroglyphs on Tumamoc Hill, made up of desert plants, animals, and found objects: ocotillo flowers, butterflies, a scorpion, rocks, a rusty key, a piece of glass, saguaro fruit, a Gila monster, and many other “dwellers” of the desert. Framing Mirocha’s mandala are dozens of quotes from various books by Byrd Baylor, including:
“If you think you’re better than a horned toad you’ll never hear its voice… Don’t be ashamed to learn from bugs or sand or anything.” The Other Way to Listen, 1978.
“The desert’s children learn to be patient… Ask how they live in a place so harsh and dry. They’ll say they like the land they live on so they treat it well—the way you’d treat an old friend. They sing it songs. They never hurt it. And the land knows.” The Desert is Theirs, 1975
The poster inspired the creation of a companion coloring book, Desert Colors, published in the spring of 2017, which Skye says, “was developed to allow the poster to jump off the wall into the laps of children and their families… and to honor where we live and Byrd Baylor’s literary genius loci magic.”
Skye says she hopes these projects will accomplish two goals: to provide conservation-minded perspectives and actions that dwellers can take to protect our shared desert home; and to introduce Byrd’s words to a new generation of readers. “Many folks younger than baby boomers seem unfamiliar with Byrd’s books,” she says, “We hope these tribute projects will effectively reintroduce Byrd Baylor as a community treasure to respect and cherish.”
What’s next for the Desert Dwellers Education Program? Skye says they’re developing prototypes of Desert Dweller Treasure Trunks for classrooms and libraries, and supporting teachers and parents in meeting Arizona State Education Standards through place-based programming. With enough support, Skye hopes to translate Desert Colors into Spanish and Tohono O’odham, and print 25,000+ copies for distribution throughout Pima County in 2017-2019.
The Desert Dwellers Know poster and Desert Colors coloring book are made possible by partnership between Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ), Byrd Baylor, Paul Mirocha Design, Tucson Audubon Society (TAS), UofA College of Science, Tucson Association of Realtors (TAR) Green Forum, City of Tucson (COT) Tucson Water, Bahti Indian Arts, Pima County Public Libraries (PCPL), Arizona Lithographers, KMel Designs, and Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society (SAEMS).
For more information or to support the program or request coloring books, visit Desert Dwellers Know. To purchase a Desert Dwellers Know poster (proceeds support the Desert Dwellers Education Program and the Tucson Audubon Society), visit