Desert advocate Elden Hughes, the consummate conservationist with the instincts of a politician has died at the age of 80 in Joshua Tree, California.

At the heart of his work was protecting the Mojave Desert. I first met Elden in 1987 and came to know him as a tenacious force for the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which created Mojave National Preserve, expanded Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park and set aside significant areas as protected wilderness.

Over the many years of fighting the good fight for desert protection, the debate assumed several dimensions–economic, aesthetic, moral, political, even philosophical. As chairman of the California Desert Protection League, Elden Hughes repeatedly stated that the desert was more than an issue to him, it was a passion.

He had a particular soft spot in his heart for the desert tortoise and was known to bring baby tortoises to Congressional offices on his lobbying trips.

The self-proclaimed desert rat spent most of his spare time in the desert exploring it with his old Ford station wagon; what he couldn’t reach by car, he hiked. He discovered places virtually unknown to even those familiar with the Mojave.

I worked with Elden, as well as his fellow California Desert Protection League co-chairs, Judy Anderson and Jim Dodson, in pushing for national park status for what was then the East Mojave National Scenic Area under the somewhat shaky stewardship of the BLM. “I’ve traveled this desert all my life,” he told me. “It’s national park quality and the National Park Service is best able to protect it.”