You might be startled if one of these scaly critters scatters from a nearby bush during a hike in the Mojave National Preserve, but this lizard is probably out looking for flowers to eat.
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.
If you plan on attending the Star Party and National Park Service Centennial Celebration this Saturday, November 5, 2016, see below for more information.
We'll begin to gather at the Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground pavillion around 5pm on Saturday, November 5. For those that have never camped before, it's a good idea to get to your campsite and set up your tent before sunset (around 5:40 pm on Saturday).
The Mojave National Preserve has a lot to offer, so we also encourage you to get to the Preserve early in the day and explore before heading over to the campground, or check out other areas on Sunday morning. On the other side of the Providence Mountains from the group campground you can check out the Kelso Depot visitor center to learn about the Preserve and its history, or the Kelso Dunes to get an up-close look at the fragile dune ecology. The Cima Dome area offers a dense Joshua tree woodland and an opportunity to hike the excellent Teutonia Peak Trail. If you have less time, there is a nice trail that lets you explore the vicinity of the Hole-in-the-Wall vistor center near the group campground, including cool geologic formations and Native American rock art.
A bit about the location:
The Star Party will be held at the Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Camprground in the Mojave National Preserve. Camping is free for the Star Party, and we're expecting a good turnout. As many as 90 people RSVP'd. If the Black Canyon campsite is too crowded for your taste, the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is a very short drive away - about one mile. For more information on camping in the Preserve, check out the National Park Service's website.
To get to the Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground (marked in the Google map, below), take Interstate 40 to the Essex Road exit. Drive north on Essex Road until you reach the junction with Black Canyon Road. The Black Canyon Group Campground is approximately 10 miles north on Black Canyon Road on the right side. There is a short stretch of dirt road to get to the campground from Black Canyon Road, but it is maintained and fine for 2WD vehicles. The Hole-in-the-Wall campground is also located along Black Canyon Road, just a bit further north on the left hand side. In the same vicinity you will also see the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center.
Astronomers will set up their telescopes on the cement pad in the Black Canyon Group Campground, and there is a covered pavillion next to the cement pad with picnic tables. Campers are welcome to set up tents in the open areas around the group campsite.
As of Wednesday, November 2, the National Weather Service is forecasting clear skies for Saturday night. The high during the day will be 72 at the campground location, and lows that night are forecast to be in the low 50s or upper 40s. Bring warm layers for the nighttime star viewing.
Things to Bring:
In addition to the camping gear and warm layers you would normally bring for a night in the desert, here are some other reminders:
- Bring your curiousity and leave the grit of the city behind.
- Feel free to bring food to share for the potluck dinner on Saturday, but this is not a requirement.
- Because you'll need to see where you are walking at night, bring a flashlight or headlamp. We strongly recommend red lights because they do not ruin your natural night vision. A red light will allow you to get around the dark campground without blinding folks that are trying to enjoy the night sky in all its glory. A regular flashlight can also be converted with some red cellophane or plastic wrap covered in red marker.
- If you plan to do some desert hiking before the Star Party or the next morning, some good walking shoes and a water bottle.
The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy invites you to our Centennial celebration of the National Park Service on November 5, 2016. Our star-studded event will take place at the Black Canyon Group Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.
Although the multitude of stars visible in the night sky is a great reason to visit the Preserve, don't be discouraged if (rare) cloudy weather prevents you from seeing the stars. These desert wildlands managed by the National Park Service offer amazing scenery, wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, and a peaceful getaway from the city.
- Astronomers will bring high-powered telesceopes so that the public can get a close-up view of the amazing night sky, including far away galaxies and planets.
- Watch the sunset across the Clipper and Fenner Valleys, a desert view that stretches as far as the eye can see.
- Learn about desert wildlife during hikes in the Preserve. Roadrunners and jackrabbits scurry about by day among an impressive diversity of desert plant life. And for those that camp the night in the Preserve, it's not unusual to hear the song of the coyote in the distance, and the hoot of owls perched on nearby boulders at night.
- Check out the amazing geologic formations, and Native American rock art during a quick hike around the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center.
We look forward to seeing you on November 5th, with activities planned into the morning on November 6th!