It’s a desert land – one of sand, “evening primrose, barrel cactus, incense bush, smoke tree and creosote bush” but mostly sand – inhabited by a people perpetually underestimated by outsiders.

Those from green, wet places see it as a searing, backward dustbowl that’s dangerous and unredeemable. But those who scratch the surface and spend time with the people begin to see with new eyes. They discover a beautiful culture and a people with a big dream to bring life to the land.

There are no giant sandworms in the El Paso desert, but it’s not hard to see some parallels between the real desert world we inhabit and the fictitious one imagined by Frank Herbert in “Dune,” the big 1965 science-fiction novel that is now a big movie.

Herbert had a lot to say in 800 or so pages, and a lot has been written about “Dune,” including the many ways it foresaw asymmetric warfare, the economy and environmentalism as we’ve known them over the past couple of decades.

But what resonated with this desert dweller was the setting – the planet itself, commonly known as Dune. And how Herbert convincingly brings to life a people that such environmental conditions would produce, especially in the second half of the book, which doesn’t come to the big screen for two years.

The book is a love letter to the desert and its “tough, strong” inhabitants. More than anything, that’s what the outsiders underestimate about the desert dwellers: their resilience.

It’s a word that seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, so much so it’s become an overused buzzword, but El Paso truly is. Isolated geographically and politically and shaped by the environmental conditions, the city has to be resilient.

“Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert,” Herbert writes.

El Paso may not have polish but don’t underestimate the people. El Paso may not have the explosive population growth of some other Texas cities, but it does have slow, steady and reliable growth. The real estate market rarely booms but it also rarely busts. The latest fads come late to El Paso, but the city learns from the mistakes of others.

There is one fleeting moment in the book when one of those outsiders to the desert planet, the Duke Leto Atreides, thinks it could become home. It’s when he sees the rising sun.

“There came the long, bell-tolling movement of dawn striking across a broken horizon. It was a scene of such beauty it caught all his attention. … He had never imagined anything here could be as beautiful as that shattered red horizon and the purple and ochre cliffs. … The Duke nodded, thinking: Perhaps this planet could grow on one. Perhaps it could become a good home for my son.”

El Paso is at its best in the cool hours of the morning and evening when the horizon has caught fire. At those moments, it feels most like home.


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