President Obama designates three new national monuments in California desert

Americans and visitors from around the world have long been drawn to the stark beauty of the California desert, with its rocky peaks, amazing array of plants and wildlife and Native American archaeological sites. Now, thanks to President Barack Obama, more of this spectacular region will be protected within three new national monuments.

On Feb. 12, 2016, President Obama officially designated the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments, honoring nearly a decade of work by a broad coalition, including local community leaders, elected officials, business owners, tribes, faith leaders, veterans and conservation groups. The Wilderness Society and our members played an important role in this victory.

Watch this video for just a small taste of what President Obama is protecting!



The Wilderness Society worked for years, leading a coalition of conservation groups to ensure that local grassroots voices could be heard, all with an eye toward permanently protecting these treasured spots.   

For nearly a decade, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) worked hard to craft and pass legislation permanently protecting the California desert, but Congress failed to act. Now, the president is using his power under the Antiquities Act to preserve irreplaceable natural, historical and cultural resources in the region, following the example of nearly every president since Teddy Roosevelt.

“Permanent protection of these desert regions will mean a chance of survival for endangered wildlife and rare plants that need space to migrate and adapt in this era of climate change,” said Dan Smuts, California senior regional director at The Wilderness Society. “Additionally, residents of nearby communities will reap the economic benefits associated with these national monuments, as visitors come to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the area. President Obama‘s action stands as a tribute to everyone who loves the wide open spaces and starry night skies of the California desert.”

The Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments preserve habitat for wildlife ranging from bighorn sheep to golden eagles; protect ancient fossil beds and Native American archaeological sites; and keep the area safe and accessible for hiking, camping and more.

Take a look at the three new national monuments that President Obama is protecting for the benefit of future generations and thank him.

Mojave Trails National Monument

Bridging the area between Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails National Monument protects a stunning array of desert plant life and essential habitat for desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, eagles, falcons and a wide variety of reptiles. The monument includes 350,000 acres of previously designated wilderness, along with the Pisgah Lava Flow, Marble Mountain Fossil Beds and the most intact stretch of historic Route 66. 

Credit: John Dittli. The new Mojave Trails National Monument includes the Cady Mountains, which are home to a range of stunning desert plants and wildlife.

Credit: Mason Cummings. The Mojave Trails National Monument includes several existing wilderness areas, as well as the Pisgah Lava Flow, Marble Mountain Fossil Beds and famed Route 66 corridor.

Credit: Mason Cummiings. In addition to bridging the area between Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails National Monument preserves key wildlife corridors connecting 13 different wilderness areas.

Credit: Mason Cummings. The monument also includes Amboy Crater, a 250-foot-tall volcanic cinder cone and surrounding landscape that feature gorgeous wildflowers in spring.

Credit: Michael Dorausch, flickr. Afton Canyon, also part of the new monument, is one of very few places where the Mojave River flows above-ground, creating an area rich with wildlife. Rocky contours of this “Grand Canyon of the Mojave” are worth the trip on their own. 

Sand to Snow National Monument

The new Sand to Snow National Monument encompasses a tract of land between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest that stretches from the Sonoran Desert floor to Southern California's tallest alpine peak, Mount San Gorgonio. It includes rivers, wetlands, desert landscapes and Joshua tree woodlands, not to mention 100,000 acres of existing wilderness. It’s also home to the headwaters of the Santa Ana—Southern California's longest river, as well as the headwaters of the Whitewater River and its accompanying wetlands—providing habitat for migrating birds, including yellow-breasted chat and vermilion flycatchers. Mule deer, mountain lions and black bears also roam this region.

Credit: Mason Cummings. Among the many outdoor recreation activities enjoyed in Sand to Snow National Monument are hiking, horseback riding, backpacking and bird watching. Part of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail runs through the monument.

Credit: Mitch Barrie, flickr. The existing San Gorgonio Wilderness, which was among the original wilderness areas protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act, lies within the boundaries of the Sand to Snow National Monument. It is a great spot for outdoor recreation, with over 100 miles of established trails.

Credit: Jack Thompson (The Wildlands Conservancy). Whitewater Canyon, as well as the namesake river that runs through it, is also a part of the new Sand to Snow National Monument. The canyon itself is a vital wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.

Credit: Mason Cummings. The new monument is renowned for its beauty, with a diversity of landscape including Joshua tree woodlands, rivers, wetlands and desert landscapes.

Credit: Tracie Hall, flickr. Big Morongo Canyon is also included in the Sand to Snow National Monument. Officially designated as Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Area of Critical Environmental Concern, this rugged patch of wild terrain is one of the places where the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert meet, an area that boasts great biodiversity.

Castle Mountains National Monument

Castle Mountains National Monument protects habitat for golden eagles, bighorn sheep, bobcats, mule deer and other wildlife, in a landscape of native desert grasslands and rocky peaks. Joshua trees, pinion pine and juniper forests are permanently protected in the new monument, along with significant cultural features, including Native American archaeological sites and the remains of Hart, a short-lived gold mining town from the early 20th century. The area has also been identified as an ideal reintroduction site for pronghorn antelope, the second-fastest land mammal on earth.

Credit: Mason Cummings. 

Credit: Mason Cummings.

Credit: Mason Cummings.

Credit: Mason Cummings.