Chuckwalla Bench event

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Photo credit COFEM
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An Op-Ed by Diego Alaniz, student

I’m a student who has lived in the Coachella Valley for my whole life, but only recently had the opportunity to visit and explore one of the Mojave Desert’s most beautiful yet little known places known as the Chuckwalla Bench. Chuckwalla Bench is part of the California Desert National Conservation Lands — public lands that are scattered throughout the southeastern corner of California. 

I’ve always loved exploring the Desert’s magnificent landscapes, but advocating for them became even more important to me on a recent camping trip to BLM lands. 

I visited the invaluable (and often overlooked) Chuckwalla Bench with a diverse group of other campers. Some were from my organization, Great Outdoors, an LGBTQ club that convenes for outings just like this. Some were from Mojave Desert Land Trust, and some were from COFEM — the Council of Mexican Federations in North America. Some campers were older, and some were as young as 13. But all of them represent the diversity of our nation, and share a connection to public lands that belong to all of us.

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Together we explored Chuckwalla Bench, which stretches from Joshua Tree National Park down to the Colorado River. We camped overnight just off Milpitas Wash, and gazed in awe at the brilliant dark night sky. The Bench is so remote that stargazers can see the Milky Way, constellations, and planets. And unlike most of Southern California, there’s no light pollution to interfere with the view.

We trekked to the Hauser Geode beds during the day, and searched for geodes and thunder eggs along beautiful veins of exposed geology. We drove along the historic Bradshaw Trail, a pristine snapshot of a time in California’s history when wagon trains shuttled gold through this part of the desert. We learned that Chuckwalla Bench was the site of one of General Patton’s World War II training camps, one of many ways these lands reflect important pieces of our
nation’s heritage.

We hiked the volcanic peaks of Graham Pass, and discussed opportunities for outdoor recreation on the Bench that many of us weren’t even aware of. We talked about the region’s Native American hunting heritage, and how indigenous people came up from the Colorado River banks to hunt for deer and game birds in these desert forests. I didn’t know until the trip that it’s one of the Desert’s largest and most intact tortoise habitats, or that it’s the only place on Earth you can find Munz’s Cholla — the largest kind of cactus in California.

There’s so much worth preserving here that I can’t understand how it could possibly face threats to its protection. But somehow, the area faces ongoing challenges. That’s why I urge everyone who loves these special landscapes to join me in calling for improved protection, public access, and management of the California Desert National Conservation Lands. These public lands embody the collective histories of the many people who call the Desert home. If we want them to be part of the future we offer our children and grandchildren, it’s essential that we safeguard their irreplaceable cultural and ecological resources.

We need to work together to stave off these threats, and call for better policy protections from industrial development, vandalism, and groundwater extraction. We need better management and stewardship of important cultural resources. And above all, we need to make sure that ALL people have access to lands like Chuckwalla Bench, and ensure diverse communities can navigate and better understand what these lands have to offer.

Please join me in supporting improved protection for Chuckwalla Bench, and the rest of the California Desert National Conservation Lands. I want to preserve these places for future generations, and I hope that you do as well.

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