I suddenly find myself unable to access my desktop to change it, getting tired of the 3 kings. Where should I look to see what changed? I am dumb as a stump about some of this stuff but I can follow directions....

Typically, you would right-click the desktop/properties.
If that's not working, start by reinstalling the display driver or try a system restore.
More info would really help, like the OS and computer model.

Duh, of course. Dell Dimension 2400 with WinXP home. I couldn't get a system restore point. I reloaded the video driver but have the same thing. I can't think what I have done differently over the past couple weeks. I last changed it in the first week of January. It was doing it before I ever upgraded to IE7. Possibly some updates messed with it, I don't know.

In run, type desk.cpl to access the desktop properties. You can change the desktop image by right clicking any image in IE and selecting "set as background."
Set a system restore point when you have it fixed.
I'm wondering something else is wrong that's causing these anomalies.

Running desk.cpl gets me there, not the problem. The Desktop tab just shows me the list, won't let me scroll through anymore. I agree, this seems very specific and strange.

RunDll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL desk.cpl,,0 gets me there too, same thing; something else is missing or toggled off.

Not intentionally. Mostly I surface, use Word, and play with display colors.

I'm having a similar (at least outwardly) problem.

Display Properties works perfectly with the exception of the desktop tab. When I choose the desktop tab the Display Properties window freezes for about 5 minutes and then works properly. If I try to shut it down early I get the "report a problem" window.

I'm running XP Pro and an ATI Mobility x1400 video card. The ATI software has given me problems in the past but this seems to be a separate issue as it didn't start until months after my ATI troubles.

I'd like to solve this problem because I REALLY like changing my desktop regularly and I use my computer for presentations. I currently have to run my "professional" desktop all the time for fear that I won't be able to switch back to it when I'm working.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

try creating a new user and see if it has desktop controls ,if it does,then you are dealing with a somewhat corrupt desktop .

This worked, under my new user the desktop was open to me. I'd prefer my old settings, any clue how I can "uncorrupt" the stupid desktop?
Any idea how this happens?

You could transfer the folders from the old profile, but it seems to me that would risk recreating the problem.
I've seen this happen, but have never figured out the cause. It could be anything from a virus to a user error.

How to copy data from a corrupted user profile to a new profile:

I have the same problem (WinXPMC, Vaio desktop). After waiting like mjoemoon did (4:16 in my case), I got the tab. Noticed wallpaper list very long. I thought it defaulted to Windows directory, and I keep my files & photos out of there, obviously. But wallpaper list appears to be everything in "My Pictures" and all subfolders (22019 files, 418 folders). Changing default directory in registry (it was defaulted to Windows\Web\Wallpaper) made no difference. Changing "My Pictures" filename didn't work, either: the current wallpaper didn't then show up in the Display Properties Sample, but it still searched (I bailed before waiting to see what it's searching). I'll try changing registry setting to a specific subfolder and a reboot just in case, but I'm not hopeful.

So does anyone know how to fix it with this additional information? That's assuming this is also mjoemoon's problem....