Happy Halloween and Happy 19th Birthday to the California Desert Protection Act!
On October 31, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law The California Desert Protection Act, which “upgraded” Death Valley and Joshua Tree from national monuments to national parks, added 69 wilderness areas and created Mojave National Preserve.
I remember celebrating on that Halloween long ago when we heard the good news about the California Desert Protection Act. With Cheri Rae, I worked with the Sierra Club to create a map of California’s desert treasures and published a book describing what was then the East Mojave National Scenic Area. We were delighted that our publication efforts helped the efforts to create more parks and wilderness areas in desert.
As a Boy Scout and later as a college student, I remember hiking in Death Valley National Monument, Joshua Tree National Monument and the East Mojave National Scenic Area. Today these vast desert lands are under even stricter stewardship by the National Park Service, but this greater protection hasn’t taken any of the fun out of hiking these parklands.
What I’ve noticed as a hiker over the last 20 years in the desert parks is easier access to trailheads with better graded dirt roads; improved trailheads with better parking, picnic tables, restrooms and the like; better signage (particularly because hiking routes often go through washes or cross-country and don’t necessarily follow the usual footpaths).
Protecting the desert parks was a very long conservation struggle. In fact, the first California Desert Protection Bill was introduced in 1987. Soon after taking office, California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act of 1993. Like the Senator Cranston-sponsored bills before it, the legislation was designed to create national parks of Death Valley and Joshua Tee national monuments, as well as establish a new, 1.5 million-acre Mojave National Park.
The bill, boosted by California’s outspoken Senator Barbara Boxer, passed, but at the last minute anti-park legislators succeeded in altering Mojave’s status from a park to preserve, thus retaining certain forms of hunting, grazing and mining activity.
OK, so we didn’t get a Mojave National Park, but we got Mojave National Preserve, one of my favorite places to hike: the world’s largest Joshua tree forest, the amazing Kelso Dunes, Hole-in-the-Wall…
Happy Birthday and Happy Trails.