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An AZPM Original

The Desert Speaks

When to Watch

PBS 6 - Weekdays, 6:30 p.m.

About David Yetman

David Yetman

David Yetman is a research social scientist at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 1972. Yetman’s research has been primarily directed towards the state of Sonora, Mexico, its indigenous people, their history, and how they have incorporated native resources into their lives.

His books include "Sonora. An Intimate Geography” (1996); "Scattered Round Stones. A Mayo Village in Sonora, Mexico" (1998); "Guarijíos of the Sierra Madre. Hidden People of Northwest Mexico" (2002); and "The Ópatas. In Search of a Sonoran People" (2010). He has also written extensively on native uses of plants in Sonora. His 2007 volume "The Great Cacti. Ethnobotany and Biogeography of Columnar Cacti" documents columnar cacti throughout the Americas, while a smaller work "The Organ Pipe Cactus" (2006) describes the natural history of the remarkable plant for which a U.S. Park Service National Monument is named. In addition, Yetman is author of numerous journal articles and book chapters. He is a frequent presenter of lectures on deserts, their people and their natural history.

In addition to his writing, Yetman served for nine years as host for the Arizona Public Media documentary television series The Desert Speaks and will host the upcoming public television series In the Americas with David Yetman. Yetman received an Emmy Award in 2007 for his documentary television work.

Arizona Public Media Presents

The Desert Speaks THE DESERT SPEAKS is an Emmy Award-winning series focusing on desert regions around the world hosted by David Yetman. Much more than a nature documentary, For 19 years, THE DESERT SPEAKS has taken viewers on bold explorations around the world. The series presents stories about the people, cultures, plants, animals and geological features encountered on travel adventures in deserts near and far away.

Host David Yetman is a research scientist at the University of Arizona's Southwest Center. The epitome of a "desert rat," Yetman has lived in the Southwest for nearly 50 years. He is a nationally known author and accomplished photographer who specializes in the plants, geography and people of northwestern Mexico. Using boats, bikes, goats and burros, Yetman takes viewers from the Grand Canyon to the Galapagos Islands, bringing his enthusiasm, energy and knowledge to the series.

About this Season

THE DESERT SPEAKS Season 12 includes the following 13 episodes:

Episode 1 - Argentina's Upside-Down Desert (Part 1)

In this season premiere, host David Yetman takes viewers on a journey through the city of Buenos Aires en route to the Andes in search of the dry desert of northwest Argentina. In Buenos Aires, locals lead the way through quaint city streets and pavilions, sharing the history of this city. After a quick stop at a local farmers' market for provisions, the journey up the Andes begins. Along the way, trek through a tropical rainforest, catch glimpses of columnar cacti and learn about the history of an archeological site that predates the Incas.

Episode 2 - Argentina's Upside-Down Desert (Part 2)

The Desert Speaks continues the search for the highest and driest part of Argentina beginning in the colonial city of Salta. Take a tour of its downtown market, stroll its streets and glean interesting information from the local guides. Then travel upward through distinctly different biomes, including a fog forest and a beautiful painted desert, before finally reaching the pinnacle. At more than 13,000 feet in elevation, it is the highest and driest northwest Argentine desert.

Episode 3 - Faces of the Argentine Desert

The continuation of life in the face of death is a daily battle for the Argentine people. In this look at the people of Argentina, learn how the Earth's natural resources can provide for life, even in the desert. Begin in bustling Buenos Aires at the tomb of Eva Peròn, and then travel to a quaint little village famous for its wool harvest from a cousin of the camel, the vicuna. The local cactus wood is important in nearly every aspect of peoples' lives. Learn how they transform this wood into furniture such as pews, pulpits, altars and ceiling boards.

Episode 4 - Journey to the Rio Grande

Host David Yetman sets out to explore the Chihuahaun Desert and the region near the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park. This river defines the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and is generally considered to dissect the prettiest slice of the Chihuahaun Desert. After an informal border crossing in a rickety boat dubbed "La Enchilada," take a burro trek to visit Boquillas, one of the most remote villages in Mexico. During this trip, meet some local characters, including a veteran paleontologist who digs up deep-sea marine mammals in the middle of the desert.

Episode 5 - Bikes, Boats and Big Bend

Continue the exploration of the Chihuahaun Desert by biking, hiking and canoeing through Big Bend National Park. Come along on a mountain bike ride on the back roads of the park and experience the beauty of an agave forest in bloom. Explore the park in search of signs of human occupation, from prehistoric fossils and cave paintings to European settlers and current-day explorers. Then canoe the Rio Bravo (called the Rio Grande by Americans) in one of the most isolated areas in Mexico. Hike and explore the flora and fauna found in canyons along the river.

Episode 6 - Heart of the Sonoran Desert

From mountaintops to rock faces and dry caves, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the most diverse sampling of plants and animals found in the Sonoran Desert today. First, explore a dry cave for signs of ancient life and discover forensic evidence used to re-create the life and death of a javelina, a native, wild, pig-like creature found only in the United States. Then, take an in-depth look at the various habitat niches of Sonoran animals. Learn how the indigenous Tohono O'odham people have used desert plants for food and medicine for generations.

Episode 7 - Desert Missions

After first exploring and then passing through the little-known border town of Sasabe, Arizona, journey to a mission in Northwestern Mexico. Labeled by locals as "Heroic Caborca," this mission actually was used as a fortress by the local townspeople. Using this mission, they successfully defended their town from an invading militia from the United States in the 1800s. To this day, bullet holes in the walls convey vivid evidence of battle. Along the way, enjoy a rare, sensational spring wildflower display. Also, examine evidence of prior human habitation in the form of petroglyphs.

Episode 8 - Death Valley

Almost void of life, there are few signs of plants or animals in the landscape of Death Valley. Despite its vacant appearance, this region is rich in human and natural history. Considered the lowest, hottest and driest place in North America, nowhere else has geology been so exposed for exploration and discovery. The Desert Speaks travels to such aptly named places as the "Devil's Golf Course," "Furnace Creek" and "Badwater" in a quest to profile the landscapes that make up Death Valley.

Episode 9 - Seasons of the Mojave

The modern history of the Mojave Desert is intertwined with the history of humans along Route 66. In this land of extremes, temperatures can reach 120 degrees in the summer and dip below freezing in the winter. Rich in natural and human history, this is home to the newest and largest desert preserve in the United States: The Mojave National Preserve. This diverse preserve has Joshua tree forests, sand dunes, creosote flats, lava fields, salt-encrusted playas and caves. Learn about the discovery of Mitchell Caverns and venture underground to examine some of the unique formations of this marvelous cavern. Then explore volcanic fields and observe how plants cling to life in the middle of hot, barren lava flows.

Episode 10 - Lilies of the Desert

The Mojave Desert is home to the world's largest lily (the Joshua tree) and the continent's smallest lizard (the night lizard). Join a group of adventurers as they travel throughout Joshua Tree National Park. They explore the intricacies of a cholla forest, learn about the powerful geological forces at work sculpting the landscape and search for the elusive night lizard. This program also includes a thorough examination of the Joshua tree's life stages, growth and natural history.

Episode 11 - Crossing the Great Basin Desert

In the 1950s, Life magazine labeled Highway 50 "the loneliest highway in America." Not much has changed along the road in northern Nevada. Part of the reason it is so lonely is that it crosses the Great Basin Desert. During the trip across the basins and over the ranges that make up this landscape, The Desert Speaks studies the fascinating geology that is key to understanding the region and its natural and human history. Take a ride into the past and board a steam-powered train, crucial to the settlement of the area. This program also includes a tour of Ruby National Wildlife Refuge - one of the few respites for Canadian geese, sandhill cranes and other migrating birds in the Great Basin.

Episode 12 - Great Basin National Park

The Desert Speaks travels onward and upward to explore Great Basin National Park near the eastern edge of the Great Basin Desert. This park showcases the plants, animals and habitats found throughout the Great Basin. Travel through many of the region's life zones by passing through the different habitats found in the park. Visit one of the most profusely decorated caves in North America: Lehman's Caves.

Episode 13 - Settling the Great Basin Desert

This program takes an in-depth look at the few inhabitants of the Great Basin Desert, such as the colorful Basque people. Originally from the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe, the first Basques migrated to the Great Basin in the 19th century. Initially, the Basque people came to America primarily as shepherds. That heritage is still evident today. This show features a visit to the Winnemucca Basque Parade and Festival, which includes traditional food, log splitting contests, music and dance. These festivals carry on the Basque traditions and keep the culture alive for upcoming generations.