There are many areas in the desert where drinkable water lies within a few feet of the surface, indicated by the mesquite and the bunch grass ( Sporobolus airoides ). It is this nearness of unimagined help that makes the tragedy of desert deaths. It is related that the final breakdown of that hapless party that gave Death Valley its forbidding name occurred in a locality where shallow wells would have saved them. But how were they to know that? Properly equipped it is possible to go safely across that ghastly sink, yet every year it takes its toll of death, and yet men find there sun-dried mummies, of whom no trace or recollection is preserved. To underestimate one’s thirst, to pass a given landmark to the right or left, to find a dry spring where one looked for running water — there is no help for any of these things.
—Mary Hunter Austin, The Land of Little Rain