Joshua Tree National Park Could Be Getting a Massive New Desert Preserve as a Neighbor

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images,)

A new national monument next to Joshua Tree National Park has been proposed. It would preserve almost 700,000 desert acres for recreation while protecting plants, animals and cultural and historic sites.

The proposed monument would be titled Chuckwalla National Monument, named for the lizard found in the Sonoran and Mojave Desert and northwestern Mexico. However, the monument would need a presidential order or a vote by Congress to become enacted.

“What’s really important in this case is we want the national monument to be a resource for the community,” said Colin Barrows, founding board member of CactusToCloud Institute. This is an organization that is part of the Protect California Deserts campaign, who created the proposal.

Joshua Tree National Park, which resides in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties, is well known for hiking, camping and rock climbing. Moreover, most know it for its iconic Joshua trees. The park sits at 795,156 acres. It was established in 1936 as a national monument. Then, it was named a national park 58 years later when Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

If the park gets the Chuckwalla monument as a neighbor, the new reserve would include land in far eastern Riverside County and in Imperial County. Chuckwalla would border the southern edge of the Joshua Tree park.

The nonprofit California Wilderness Coalition leads the campaign, spokesperson Ryan Henson said. In addition to protecting species, the monument designation would protect against development, he said.

Separate from the monument, the campaign also seeks to add about 20,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land southeast of Joshua Tree in Riverside County to the national park. It would be open for development, mining or road construction. It was once used for small-scale mining.

Nonprofit Spokesperson Reveals Plans for Reserve Near Joshua Tree National Park

“The proposed park addition is critically important to understanding mining in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Henson said.

According to a National Parks Service blog, one difference between a national park and a national monument is how they get established.

The monument proposal could succeed in one of two ways. First, Congress could pass legislation to create the monument. The other option would be the president passing an executive order under the Antiquities Act of 1906. This act protects federal, historic and public sites, Henson said.

The federal government preserves national monuments for their historic, prehistoric or scientific interest such as preserving wildlife and historical sites.

Entrance to the monument would be free, hoping to increase the public’s accessibility to wildlife, Barrows said.

The proposed monument area would includes the Bradshaw Trail near Riverside County. The trail includes a trade route used by 19th-Century gold prospectors. It was also “an even more ancient Native American trade route that crosses the region connecting one spring to another spring,” Henson said.

The area was also used for training purposes during World War II. Tank tracks, abandoned camps and training areas can still be seen in the area, Henson said.