California Desert

The California Desert contains tremendous biological diversity-- more than 1,800 types of plants and 600 wildlife species.

A multi-colored expanse of sand dunes, wildflowers, lush oases and craggy rock formations lies almost hidden between the bustling cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The sheer variety of life, exotic landscape and history here demands we protect it.

This 25 million-acre expanse of mostly-public lands  also contains cultural and tourism attractions ranging from old stagecoachtrails to ancient petroglyphs.

View a map of the region below:

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Work we are doing

View of the Soda Mountains from Cronise Sand Dunes, located in the Soda Mountains Wilderness Study Area within the Mojave Desert. Credit: John Dittli.

The Wilderness Society is working with California desert communities and other conservation groups to preserve some of the most unique natural and cultural landmarks in the American West.  We are also working to guide renewable energy projects to suitable areas, away from the most sensitive lands in the region. 

Working to preserve 1.6 million desert acres

We are working to support Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s efforts to protect the California desert. Her California Desert Protection Act of 2009 and 2011 sought to preserve the Mojave Desert’s spectacular wildlands

Photo: Badlands east of Denning Spring inside the Avawatz Mountains Wilderness Study Area. Credit: John Dittli.

We continue to support the Senator Feinstein's goals to achieve the following:

  • Two new national monuments

Mojave Trails National Monument: This new national monument would bridge the area between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve.

Its 941,000 acres would include Pisgah lava flow, Amboy Crater, Kelso Dunes Wilderness and wildlands along Route 66 that include Sleeping Beauty Valley.

Mojave National Preserve. Credit: mlhradio, flickr.

Sand to Snow National Monument: The area of the proposed Sand to Snow Monument includes a diverse transition from lower desert areas with Joshua tree forests, to the year-round Whitewater River, to snow-capped alpine peaks, including Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s tallest mountain. The 134,000-acre national monument would include wildlife corridors linking Joshua Tree National Park to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, and bighorn sheep and desert tortoise habitat.

  • Additions to our national parks 

Death Valley National Park: This national park would be expanded by about 32,000 acres.

Additions would include the southern geological gem known as the “Bowling Alley” with its deep canyons and bajadas.

The existing Death Valley National Park. Credit: Andrew Mace, flickr.

Mojave National Preserve: This desert preserve would increase by about 29,000 acres. The addition would include the scenic Castle Mountains, the missing piece of the Lanfair Valley.

Additions to Joshua Tree National Park

  • Protections for rivers and creeks: Preserving about 70 miles of Deep Creek, Amargosa River, Surprise Canyon and other important waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
  • Five new wilderness areas: The California Desert Protection Act would protect federal wildlands in Death Valley National Park and other areas as designated wilderness.

Boosting tourism

Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve attract nearly 3 million visitors each year.  Travelers spend more than $230 million annually on outdoor recreation in those places. Maintaining the beauty of the desert will help contribute to a healthy tourist economy in California.

Renewable energy

The beautiful Silurian Valley in the Mojave desert should be preserved for future generations to explore. Credit: John Dittli.

The California desert is home to some of the Southwest’s wildest places. Finding a balance between renewable energy development and protections for the region’s wild lands is a challenge. The Wilderness Society is working with conservation partners, the federal Bureau of Land Management, other state and federal agencies and project developers to limit impacts to wild lands and wildlife habitat and maximize clean energy benefits.

Guiding renewable development to the right places

We are working to protect key wildlife habitat and wild lands and guide renewable energy projects to the right places. Our list of desert treasures represents some of the special places in the California desert that deserve protection and should be off limits to development. This work includes our efforts to influence the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) which was released in September 2014.

The DRECP is a joint federal and state plan that seeks to preserve delicate desert habitat and also identify appropriate locations for renewable energy development. TWS is working to make sure this plan will help California achieve its clean energy goals and conserve special desert lands.

Protecting the desert’s heritage for future generations

The desert is part of America’s iconic Old West, and its wildlife, scenery, heritage and recreation are  important to local communities as well as visitors from around the world.

The Wilderness Society has worked to limit impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat.

You can help us protect the California Desert’s most special places by signing up for our WildAlert list for future opportunities to ensure these special desert lands are forever preserved.

At Imperial Valley Solar, a 709 megawatt project proposed by K-Road Power west of El Centro, California,  The Wilderness Society worked to limit impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat and maximize clean energy benefits.  The projects was approved by the Bureau of Land Management in October 2010.

At Lucerne Valley Solar, The Wilderness Society worked to improve this 45-megawatt project proposed by Chevron Energy Solutions east of Victorville, California, through the permitting process.  It was eventually approved by the Bureau of Land Management in October 2010. We supported this approval because it limited environmental impacts.

Our partners

The Wilderness Society is part of a coalition of community, conservation and business groups working to preserve the California Desert.  

This coalition of local, state and national groups includes:

  • Residents
  • Cities
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Conservation groups
  • Community leaders
  • Businesses
  • Veterans

Experience the California Desert

View of the Cady Mountains from the California Desert. Credit: John Dittli.

The historic ghost towns, sand dunes, mountains and spectacular flora and fauna of the vast California Desert make it a one-of-a-kind destination. Hot spots like Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, the Mojave National Preserve and many Desert Treasures are among the highlights.

But some of these Desert Treasures still need permanent protection, and The Wilderness Society is working to ensure they will be preserved for future generations.


  • Michael Reinemer

    Citing some of “the most beautiful and iconic landscapes on earth” in Teton County’s backyard, the board of commissioners Tuesday morning unanimously passed a resolution that “opposes any and all efforts by the State of Wyoming to obtain the wholesale transfer of federal lands in Wyoming” to the state. In January, Sweetwater County filed a letter with the state legislature stating similar opposition to measures that would turn over federal public lands—such as parks, wilderness, and national forests—to state jurisdiction and management.

  • Tim Woody

    In spite of Royal Dutch Shell’s disastrous performance during the 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling season, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management today conditionally approved the company’s 2015 exploration plan, which provides even fewer safeguards for the Chukchi Sea and its sensitive coastline than Shell had in place three years ago. Shell also plans to bring a different rig operated by a new contractor to the Arctic Ocean in 2015, which could result in unexpected transport and drilling problems.

  • Michael Reinemer

    The Wilderness Society strongly supports bipartisan legislation, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 (S. 235, H.R. 167), to fix a budgetary problem called “fire borrowing.”  This is a destructive cycle in which the Forest Service is forced to take funds from other forest programs when its allotted wildfire funds are used up, essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul to put out fires in our national forests.