The Desert May Look Dead but It’s Actually a Fragile Ecosystem

Those unfamiliar with the desert often remark about how dead it looks. Colors of browns and grays. Spindly looking shrubs and trees. Where’s the wildlife hiding? Let us open your eyes to the hardy, thriving flora and fauna of this magnificent desert we call home.


“Drive mile upon mile through California’s Mojave Desert, and you still can see the unspoiled vistas of one of the largest intact ecosystems in the continental United States…

 Along Route 66 stretch the same empty valleys and distant mountains that Oklahoma farmers escaping the Dust Bowl saw in their migration west. In the vast swathes of scrub land, scientists are finding new plant species at a rate rivaling that in the Amazon. Ancient creosote bushes, like one 11,700 years old that miraculously survived in an off-road vehicle playground, live here in soils scientists only now realize are one of the planet’s great carbon sinks”, reported Carolyn Lochhead for The San Francisco Chronicle in an article dated January 30, 2016.


“Six years ago, these lands were on the verge of being bulldozed for industrial solar and wind installations amid an all-out drive by the Obama administration and national environmental organizations to boost renewable energy in the fight against climate change.

The only thing standing in the way was Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a small conservation group called the Wildlands Conservancy whose leader, David Myers, had the California Democrat’s ear.

Within days, President Obama is expected to invoke the Antiquities Act, at Feinstein’s request, to create three national monuments preserving 1,380,350 acres of these lands, including a long stretch of Route 66.  The Mojave Trails designation would protect 105 miles of the most pristine extant section of Route 66 and link Joshua Tree National Park with the Mojave National Preserve.”

The March 2009 Smithsonian Magazine recognized Route 66 as one of the “15 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures.”


“To industrialize it, to tear it up, to abuse it, to rape it, would be a travesty,” said Jim Conkle, a former Marine known as Mr. Route 66. “People see the Mojave Desert as this vast wasteland. I see it as an ocean without water. There’s so much there. If we don’t take care of it, it’s gone forever.

Scientists have only recently learned that desert soils and plants, whose roots plunge deep into the earth, sequester vast amounts of carbon. “If you bulldoze the soil, you start to release carbon at a rate that offsets the gains of moving away from fossil fuel,”  according to James Andre, a UC Riverside plant biologist who directs the Granite Mountains Desert Research Center at the Mojave National Preserve and has been leading species discoveries in the desert. “That’s pretty extraordinary, given that the sole reason used to justify the projects has been dealing with the climate crisis.”


Desert monuments

National monuments in the California desert proposed for designation by President Obama under the Antiquities Act are:

(Update: All are NOW National Monuments) Click on their names for additional info.

Mojave Trails: 1.2 million acres, including 105 miles along Route 66, to be managed by Bureau of Land Management, plus another 253,000 acres added in Bristol Dry Lake, Cadiz Valley and Sacramento Mountains.

Castle Mountains: 21,000 acres next to Mojave National Preserve to be managed by National Park Service.

Sand to Snow: 135,000 acres creating a low- to high-elevation corridor linking Joshua Tree National Park to the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The plan includes an additional 6,350 acres of Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa. It will be managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

The desert is teeming with diverse wildlife. Nature has its own special rhythm in the desert. You just have to know where, or more importantly, how to see it. Once you experience it for yourself, you will never see things the same way again. The desert is life itself.

One thought on “The Desert May Look Dead but It’s Actually a Fragile Ecosystem

  1. I learn so much from your blog posts and I like that you go back and update them with new relevant info.

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