The High Desert

Gamma World, The High Desert surrounding the Mead Valley

At dawn the reddened sun pours heat into a jumbled landscape. A little of this vast land is nuclear desert; most of it is just bone-dry. Some of it was resculpted during the devastation. Many fault lines, similar to the San Andreas fault, were targets. Most of this land is a place of weird and solitary beauty. If you know how to look for it (and at it).

Down south, the Sonoran Desert is simmeringly hot, especially in summer. Fortunately there are distinct limits – mountain ranges and great cliffsides – to that hellscape. The High Desert (Nevada/Utah) is not as bad as that, but only the most foolish of men go out there alone. This was one of the wastelands of the world, and is still recognizable as what it used to be.

The area is riddled with mountain ranges, each of which functions as a sort of oasis. The largest of these runs through central Utah. Western mountainsides collect dew and trace moisture as the air rides up the flank of the mountain, so there may be some green living things to eat at any given time. The Sierra Nevada are still there, more rugged than before the Cataclysm. So are the Rocky Mountains. These two ranges form the western and eastern edges of this region. To the north the desert fades into prairie by about the line of the Snake River.

Much of the landscape is stone – huge rock formations such as the mesas with colorful names like Cathedral Rock, boulders, stones, all the way down to pebbles. The surface is solid and firm, packed down by the after-effects of faint earthquakes.

There are a few permanent rivers, their course marked with trees and (relatively) lush greenery. Seasonal rivers can be found because bushes and similar plants grow along their courses. Of course there are runoff gullies and such-like goings that are wet only when it rains somewhere uphill. Many river courses have more water underground, percolating slowly through mud and gravel a few feet below the surface.

It rains here, of course never more than 10 inches a year, in places and patches. Where it does rain there will be grass and greenery for a season; there will be a border where the rain did not fall, and barren stones or rock beyond that. Depending on the soil, this border can be wide and gradual or it can be narrow and abrupt. But always remember that water in this area is like ‘feast or famine’: you can go months with no rain on a given point and then it pours down or flash floods – and after the water recedes it will be dry again for months or years on end.

Although nobody has yet done so, you could raise herds of cattle (or something) in this region. You would have to accept a mobile life, as the beasts will eat everything in any given field and have to move to another before very long. And the land that is a field one year may be just dry stonescape the next. The only permanent pastures are along the few rivers.

The earthquakes and geologic activity has had an unexpected side-effect: the mineral resources of this region have been recharged. Iron, rubies, gold, copper, silver, uranium, sapphires – any element or stone or ore you care to name – can be found here. A few (perhaps as many as the fingers on one hand – and not a mutant’s hand either!) of the Ancient’s mines still exist, but most of these resources will require new diggings.

During the Final War, the whole Desert Southwest depopulated rapidly; people simply moved away to places where the search for water was not a problem. There were (and are) few inhabitants in this region. Mining villages are the most common settlements in the area. Few people have found a long-term solution to the problem of edibles, so most villages are a temporary affair. They last only from the time a mineral is found until the supply of food runs out – a year at best. Then the miners have to leave. Near Mead Valley, a permanent trade has grown up to meet this need. As time goes by, more-permanent settlements could develop near there, and spread outward.

The major Ancient ruins are near Salt Lake City and Reno. Both of these sites have a radiation field within 10 kilometers of the old city limits. Unless the GM wishes to place something for purposes of an adventure, the rest of this land is clean. Occasionally a ghost town, either of the Old West or the Ancients, can be found. Usually this will be along the old path of interstates and railroads, or near a mineral lode. But most of the area looks as if it had never felt the hand of Man.

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Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2019 by Brian Judt, all rights reserved. Permission is granted to use this information, and the maps for personal (non-commercial) use only.


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