The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 5: Wild but not Wilderness, part 1

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

California has many pristine wilderness areas which might not stay that way. Listen next, to part one of "Wild but not Wilderness", on the Wildebeat.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number five.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE SERGEANT: Seven point four million acres of pristine and scenic wild federal lands in California lack the protection of the Wilderness act. Of our public wild lands, almost forty thousand acres each year are lost to potential wilderness protection by development, mining, or logging.

At the beginning of this decade, the California Wilderness Coalition completed a comprehensive inventory of wild public lands in the state. I asked Ryan Henson, the policy director for the C-W-C, about this inventory project.

RYAN HENSON: We looked at all the federal lands around the state, with the exception of military bases and reservations, and tried to look for places that met the definition of wilderness.

Congress defined wilderness, in nineteen sixty four, as an area of federal land that's five thousand acres or larger in size, that are fairly ecologically intact in nature. It's an area where the impact of man's hand is substantially unnoticeable.

We were looking for those kinds of places. And our eventual goal is to get as many of those acres as possible protected as wilderness.

STEVE: Following this study, the C-W-C launched the California Wild Heritage campaign. The campaign includes a proposal for legislation, later supported by Senator Barbara Boxer, to protect much of these lands under the nineteen sixty four wilderness act.

The C-W-C found that a large percentage of California's unprotected wilderness areas are in the desert south. An example of such an area is on the edge of Palm Springs. The Paradise Valley proposal would develop fifty four hundred acres in the Shavers Valley, on the southwest border of Joshua Tree National Park. Under this proposal, intact desert habitat immediately adjacent to the national park wilderness would be developed into a resort that would include hotels, several golf courses, timeshares, a major business center, and nine thousand suburban homes.

So I wanted to find out more about which areas might be best to see while they are still truly wild.

I'm talking with Bryn Jones, the Desert Program Director for the California Wilderness Coalition. Bryn, welcome to The WildeBeat.

BRYN JONES: Thank you, Steve.

STEVE: How about a place our listeners could visit, that's not protected, and potentially at risk.

BRYN: Well, I'm going to tell you first my favorite, because I'm most passionate about it. And that is the Avawatz Mountains, which are south of Death Valley, about fifty miles north of Baker off of highway one twenty seven.

These mountains are just amazing to me. They're so different from one side to another. There's a couple places in particular that I really love. The first is Salt Basin, which is kind of a badlands area filled with mud hills that secrete salt after rain, and so it just looks like these hills are dripping with salt. It's one of those places that really changes depending on the time of day you're there, and the way the light hits the hills. There's reds and whites and yellows and black tones all throughout these hills.

And there's also another area called Sheep Creek on the north east side of Avawatz Mountains. It's one of those places in the desert that you all of a sudden come upon a bunch of greenery, where water flows much of the year. Just this amazing green riparian vegetation against really rocky ridges and cliffs that have these gorgeous geologic striations throughout them. And it's also an area that big horn sheep visit, so you have a good possibility of seeing those there when you're there.

STEVE: So how about another area that our listeners could visit?

BRYN: OK! Well, just going north of the Avawatz Mountains, we have Death Valley. There's this mile stretch of land between Fort Irwin army base and Death Valley National Park, and it's managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It's beautiful area that is perfect place to go to if you want solitude. Not a lot of people go out there. Our proposal would make that part of the national park as well as designating it wilderness.

One of the great things that you can see there, if you go during the right time of year after or during rains, the Amargosa River flows through that area and it makes a U-turn where it's been heading from north to south, it all of a sudden turns and heads north again. It eventually empties out into Badwater. But it's always an amazing thing to see a flowing river in the desert.

STEVE: You had another area that you wanted to talk about.

BRYN: Yeah, the Soda Mountains are another great area. They're really easy to access. They're off of interstate fifteen between Barstow and Baker on the north side of I-15. They're another range that really changes from one side to another. You see from one side really gentle slopes to the other side really jagged, steep, rugged ridges.

And some of the really unique things about the Soda Mountains: First, the rare crucifixion thorn is a plant that occurs there, and it's the northern most population of this plant. If you go in a wetter time of the year there are the East and West Cronese Lakes that fill up with water when there's good rain and provide habitat for migrating birds. The endangered Yuma clapper rail visits the lakes when they're full, and you also get a really good opportunity to see various raptors.

Also in the Soda Mountains there are a number of archaeologic sites. There's a number of salt and hunting camps left from thousands of years ago. There's also aboriginal trail systems and significant rock alignments.

STEVE: Are there any special concerns a visitor would have to have over other similar areas?

BRYN: As a general rule in the desert, you need to be aware of heat. There's always things like rattle snakes and things like that that you have to be aware of and watch out for.

Not a lot of people visit the area. There are some people who go off-roading in the area and you need to watch for them. Make sure you know where you're going and staying on established routes.

STEVE: Bryn, I'd like to thank you for sharing with me the description of these wilderness areas, and I hope to talk to you again on this show in the future.

BRYN: Thank you Steve, I appreciate you thinking of us.

STEVE SERGEANT: Bryn Jones is the desert program director for the California Wilderness Coalition.

You can find pictures of these areas, and links to more information about these desert areas and the C-W-C in general, on our web site.

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Next time — In part two of "Wild but not Wilderness", we'll explore lush areas in California's forested northern coast.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Future editions of The Wildebeat depend on your contributions, both for funding and for content. Please see our website for details.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number five. Thank you for listening.

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