You could call it a monumental achievement: In February 2016, three new national monuments were created, protecting a combined total of 1.8 million acres of California desert. The names of the preserves evoke the scenery they protect: Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains.

“This designation protects a heroic, beautiful landscape for solitude, inspiration, and outdoor recreation,” says David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, a group that has worked tirelessly with California’s U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to give the lands federal protection. “The monuments link the landscapes of eastern California from the San Bernardino Mountains through Joshua Tree National Park and all the way up toward Death Valley,” explains Myers. Though some of this acreage was already protected within desert preserves or wilderness areas, these new national monuments bind together smaller parcels—and their delicate ecosystems—under one big safety net.

Now desert dwellers like bighorn sheep, golden eagles, fringe-toed lizards, and desert tortoises have nearly 2 million protected acres to call home.

“The national monuments provide a critical habitat linkage for many rare and endangered species,” Myers says. Now desert dwellers like bighorn sheep, golden eagles, fringe-toed lizards, and desert tortoises have nearly 2 million protected acres to call home.

It may be several years before more trailheads and visitor centers are built, but there are still plenty of ways and places to explore these unique and beautiful lands. Just go prepared. Take plenty of water and snacks, layer on the sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring extra layers of clothes. (Deserts can be surprisingly cold once the sun goes down.) Consider renting a high-clearance 4WD vehicle for navigating rough, unpaved roads, and gas up before you head in. Plan your route in advance, and share details with friends or family at home; cell service is spotty or nonexistent in these preserves.

by Anne Marie Brown, Visit California

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