Lonely Planet Writer

US protected desert now up to 1.8m acres in California

President Obama has designated three areas in the Californian desert as national monuments, bringing the total number of protected desert areas up to 1.8 million the acres in California.

Lake Isabella in California
Lake Isabella in California Image by Chris Hunkeler

In spite of what would appear to be rugged terrain, the areas of desert have delicate environments and are at risk from mining and grazing cattle among other things. The threat to these areas encouraged Obama to turn them into national monuments, something that presidents have the power to do to preserve “objects of historic and scientific interest” that have cultural and national importance, under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

The new national monuments were announced as being Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains.

The landscape and environments of the new areas include canyons, dunes, grasslands, lava spills, pinyon pine trees, barrel and cholla cacti and the famous Californian Joshua tree forests. Its wildlife too is rare, and flourishes in this environment in spite of its harshness, and includes bighorn sheep, tortoises, fringe-toed lizards and more than 250 types of birds.The area has huge cultural and environmental value, as well as economic, as its a popular tourism destination and home to varied wildlife dependent on the areas health and maintenance. It contains some of America’s most scenic landscape.

Anza Borrago Desert
Anza Borrago Desert Image by Scrubhiker

The Mojave Trail covers an area that skirts along the old Route 66 and that protects 1.8 million acres that stretch from the Mojave National Park to the Joshua Tree National Park. Sand to Snow includes 24 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail among other things and is a well-known bird-watching destination as well as containing a large amount of rock engravings, or petroglyphs. Castle Mountains includes a series of jagged mountains stretching all the way to the Nevada border, and features rare cacti and pinyon pine trees.

Speaking to the LA Times, director of the California desert and wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the areas were of intangible value to the country, and that steps were being taken to even reintroduce wildlife to some parts. “A few centuries ago, Mexican wolves chased pronghorn antelope across this very landscape. We’re already in discussions with federal wildlife authorities,” he said, “about taking the next step: reintroducing species of a bygone era, starting with pronghorn antelope.”

Joshua tree in the California desert
Joshua tree in the California desert Image by Chuck Abbe

By the end of his presidency Barack Obama will have made 265 million acres of land and water protected areas, more than any other administration.

Read more:

Wildlife and nature

The Grand Canyon