The hot, arid desert was a poetic refuge for Billie Jean Davis, a single mom recovering from a divorce.
She fled to the valley from Wyoming in 1970 with her young son, Charles, to be near her parents.
Davis, an environmentalist, declared her love for the desert's natural beauty with vivid descriptions of yucca and Joshua trees, white stone mountains and wildflowers in published pieces that depicted her new life in the Mojave.
"Drier and wider now this night, asks me to remove my sweater and stay. The desert is home," she wrote in her poem "Homing."
Then she met a man named Bill James at a Sierra Club mountain climbing class. She became Billie Jean James shortly thereafter.
But life took an unexpected turn 24 years ago.
Charles was killed in a car accident on I-15 near their home in the southern edge of the valley. His girlfriend had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Billie Jean's life was never the same.
She wove threads of heartache throughout her poetry as she painfully recalled the memory of losing her only child.
Her poem "Handgrip" reflects on death in graveyards, books and movies she experiences before her physical meeting with death in the loss of Charles.
"Your cold hands, Death, chose my young son," she wrote.
At the time of the accident, James was halfway around the world in Saudi Arabia with her husband as he finished up a three-year engineering project on the Red Sea.
Billie Jean James taught English to Saudi women. As a feminist she struggled with the cultural differences of completely covering up in public and not being allowed to teach men. So she taught classes privately in her own home, a deportable offense.
She was never caught. She stuck up for what she believed in; that's just the way Billie Jean James lived life.
Close friends say it was her son's tragic accident that caused the 67-year-old to compulsively collect clothing, furniture and other items to cope with the pain and hold onto memories -- a reaction that can lead to hoarding, local experts said.
The bizarre case of Billie Jean James, who was thought to be missing since April and whose body was discovered by her husband underneath items in a cluttered back room of their home almost two weeks ago , has shined light on the issues of hoarding and police searches.
Bill James, her husband of 40 years, wouldn't comment for this story. James sought out the media when his wife went missing in April and talked openly after he found her body, but he refused to speak with journalists who reported on her hoarding.
It will take weeks to identify her cause of death, according to the Clark County coroner's office. There is an ongoing police investigation.
Brenda Bryant, one of Billie Jean James' closest friends, said police did not search as thoroughly inside of the home as she wanted.
"Things were not in disarray after their search," Bryant said. "It was still her organized chaos. To really thoroughly search, you'd have to tear the place up, I would think. She could be right here underneath her own stuff, that's the first thing I said."
Helicopters with infrared technology searched from the skies. Police and volunteers scoured the surrounding desert area and dogs that searched ground zero in New York City sniffed through the home at least three times.
Police said they concentrated most of their resources on searching outside of the home. Because dogs never gave an indication that James was inside, police did not move items from the home to see if she was underneath anything.
It wasn't until Bill James was cleaning out a back room of their home on Aug. 25 -- four months after his wife disappeared -- when he saw her shoes poking out from under a pile of items.
The woman so full of life and energy was gone.
"She was always going. She did not stop," Bryant said. "There were too many things she wanted to do."
Billie Jean James went to movies five times a week, never missed the Oscars on TV, got signatures for petitions in support of environmental causes, hiked in Red Rock Canyon and on Mount Charleston, taught poetry workshops and English classes, and held season tickets to the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
"This woman has more energy than any other woman I've ever known," said Bryant, her friend of 14 years.
She was organized in her clutter, sorting her racks of clothing by color and style. She had many sundresses to wear on her hikes.
"She called it 'honoring the feminine,' " Bryant said. "She was very adamant that women need to be respected for their femininity. That's just part of Billie Jean."
Blouses were separated from pants. Plaid clothes had their own rack near the green clothes, and stacks of red items from Valentine's Day were housed in the bathroom, piled all the way to the ceiling.
But James' stockpile wasn't something she was proud of, Bryant said.
"She had lots of shame about her home. She would rag on herself because she couldn't get her house organized. I told her she would literally have to give up everything for six months and do nothing but work on her house. But she couldn't give up her life, so I told her to quit being hard on herself."
During the holidays, James was a thoughtful person, someone who would write memories about her friends on giant paper scrolls and give them away along with small gifts from thrift stores.
"She cared very much about people," Bryant said. "She had this wonderful gift of honoring a person, and she writes out all of the positive things about this person. It's so incredible. I have one (scroll) from my retirement that must be 15-feet long. She wrote in big crayons and marking pens."
Though her own story had a tragic ending, much like her son's, her friends and family can look back fondly on her memory captured in her work as a writer and an environmental advocate.
For Bryant, knowing her friend's whereabouts brings more comfort, and now the grieving process can begin.
"I am grateful and relieved that my friend wasn't tortured, mutilated or taken and thrown out somewhere," Bryant said. "I have been imagining that somebody has done something horrible and tortuous to her, and I'm really glad to know that didn't happen."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.