Climate and landscape were central to the Colorado Desert’s history, first as an impediment and later as an opportunity for development. The heat and aridity that made the desert a nightmare for travelers and prospectors became assets for irrigators. Beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century engineers and developers carried the ambitions and capital of Los Angeles into the vast desert basin. The city’s business and technical networks connected economic growth in the desert to a global community of hydraulic experts and capitalists. Apparent success in the desert allowed the engineers to secure a role in the vanguard of U.S. overseas endeavors, in the process making Los Angeles a global center of engineering knowledge. Focusing on the interplay between the desert environment, regional ambition, and engineers’ personal connections and expertise allows us to see that a remote desert in one of the most difficult landscapes in the country was at the forefront of the shift from continental dominance to global involvement.
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