Less than one percent of the total national budget goes toward our national parks. But Washington is considering the deepest cut to the National Park Service (NPS) budget since World War II and privatizing campgrounds, when it should be addressing a massive maintenance backlog that already impacts most parks due to years of neglect by Congress.
The administration in April took two major steps that threaten the Preserve and surrounding desert habitat. Washington is considering removing protections from some national monuments and other public lands, including lands neighboring the Preserve, and has also made it easier for a private company to deplete groundwater in the Mojave that many wildlife depend upon.
The Kelso Dunes are a central feature of the Mojave National Preserve, visible for miles around to visitors in the western portion of the park. The graceful peaks and valleys of this large dune field are even more gorgeous at sunset and sunrise. The dunes show off their texture as every little ripple and wave in the sand forms its own shadow. The sand that forms these dunes is transported by the wind from miles away. The mountains around the dune field interrupt the wind, releasing each fine grain of sand from the sky and forming dunes over time.
This happenstance of geography, geology and weather creates a home for many specialized desert species. Grasses and shrubs take root throughout parts of the dune field. There are insects found only in these dunes, such as the Kelso Dunes Jerusalem Cricket and the Kelso Dunes Shieldback Katydid. The Mojave fringe-toed lizard enjoys the sandy soils and is known to bury itself just beneath the surface to hide from predators and the blazing midday sun. The dune evening primrose blooms here when the desert receives sufficient rain.
Like the rest of the desert, many animal species are nocturnal and you can find evidence of their nighttime wanderings in the form of various tracks across the sand. Like the distinctive hop pattern of the kangaroo rat, the imprints of the sidewinder rattlesnake, and paw prints of a kit fox.
Visiting the Dunes:
- The dunes trailhead is easily accessible along a maintained dirt road off of Kelbaker Road.
- As with all travel in the Preserve, go slow and keep an eye out for wildlife in the road. I have encountered a desert tortoise on the dirt road leading to the trailhead. Also remember to check under your parked vehicle before driving away - tortoises sometimes take shelter in the shade of a parked car.
- Bring water. The dunes don't look far, but walking in the sand makes it much more difficult and there is no shade from the sun. It's better to get this hike in during cooler hours of the day and don't underestimate how quickly you can become dehydrated.
- When hiking out to the dunes, keep to already disturbed paths. You'll see a lot of plant life in the sand that can easily be harmed by humans treading across it, and will not quickly grow back.
- Stay tuned to all of the animal tracks. You may not be lucky enough to spot the many wildlife species that call the dunes home, but you can count on seeing their tracks!
- There is a treat in store for those that make it to the top of the dunes. As your steps along the crest of the dune cause the sand to fall, it creates a booming sound. This "singing dune" phenomenon is rare among dunefields.
Thanks to the National Parks Conservation Association - one of our partners that co-sponsored the November Star Party in the Preserve - for putting together this great video on the importance and the impact of the Mojave National Preserve. The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy is obviously biased in our passion for the Preserve, so it's great when first-time visitors share the same sense of wonder and enthusiasm for the Mojave.
The Preserve is a powerful place, and we are proud to work with others to help introduce the community - and especially youth - to these beautiful desert wildlands and the starry sky above!
The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy is planning more events in the Preserve for 2017 to build a network of voices that appreciate this landscape. Your Conservancy membership and donation will help us educate the community about the wonders of the Mojave and the threats that it faces.
The Conservancy plans to continue to introduce educators and students to the Mojave in 2017. For many students, visiting the Preserve for a Star Party or field trip is their first opportunity to spend significant time exploring the desert and learning about the Mojave ecosystem. The Conservancy hopes that events like these build a lasting connection, and a stronger community of stewards for the Preserve and surrounding wildlands. If you are an educator interested in a trip to the Preserve, please contact us.
The Conservancy will also remain vigilant in the new year, monitoring plans for transportation, energy and mining projects that could undermine wildlife habitat, groundwater, and the sense of solitude that make these wildlands so special. We will continue speaking up for the protection of this amazing place and keep you informed of opportunities for you to lend your voice.
The Conservancy was busy in 2016 working to support the conservation of remaining desert wildlands surrounding the Preserve. These lands serve as habitat connectivity for diverse wildlife that flourish inside and outside the Preserve, providing much neded resilience to species facing the threat of climate change and habitat loss throughout their range.
The Conservancy spoke up against mining development and poorly sited energy projects, provided input on land management plans, and supported conservation designations. In February the Conservancy applauded President Obama's designation of new monuments, including two neighboring the Preserve - the Castle Mountains and Mojave Trails National Monuments!
The Conservancy this year also added its voice against the Soda Mountain Solar project that would have threatened natural springs supporting wildlife in the Preserve, including the rare Mojave tui chub fish. The project also would have foreclosed options to restore the connectivity of bighorn sheep habitat across Interstate 15. The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in August ultimately denied a key permit for the project, stalling the threat for now. As the Supervisors noted in their rejection of the permit, we can generate clean energy on our rooftops or on already-disturbed lands without sacrificing such important wildlife habitat.