The setting of the story is in the 1940s American Southwest, a sparsely populated countryside of red rock and desert, scrub brush, mesas and rivers. Throughout the story we get the sense of cloeness to the Earth, of both Ultima's and Tony's closeness to the Earth and the environment they are in. Ultima's healing powers come from the Earth, and her connection to the owl, her power animal.
Anaya also uses the setting in such a way as to suggest to the reader that this place, this land, is different. It is as if it is not just Ultima who has magical powers, but the surroundings she and the other characters are in has some ancient mysticism attached to it. The setting becomes especially important during Tony's dream about the Golden Carp.