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Building ties and strengthening bonds in the California desert

Story by Andrea Iniguez

Spending time in nature is a great way to connect with the land and with others. People unfamiliar with the desert often perceive its landscape as inhospitable, so they don’t think to explore this region. However, the desert offers surprising beauties and experiences that truly enhance our relationship to our surroundings. Last month, I was able to really appreciate the Colorado desert by joining partners on an outing. 

Expansive view of Dos Palmas Preserve | Andrea Iniguez

We visited the Dos Palmas Preserve, a 1,400-acre oasis with hundreds of native California fan palms, in Riverside County. Although the preserve is under the care of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is part of the 20,000-acre Salt Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, its grounds are open to visitors year-round. Our group spent the morning hiking through the preserve and admiring its scenic beauty. Many of our partners, including myself, had never hiked the oasis, so they were openly enthusiastic about the opportunity to explore this area. Dos Palmas Preserve is a lush wetland brimming with tall palm trees, so simply wandering through its grounds was enriching. However, having a well-informed guide added to the experience. A member from CactusToCloud Institute led the group safely through the preserve and shared important details about the landscape along the way. We made several interesting stops on our journey, including a cemetery hidden deep in the oasis where the Texan soldier Herman Ehrenberg and two others are buried. The adobe ranch house built around the 1920s was also particularly memorable, as well as the various pools of water holding desert pupfish, a small and short-lived state and federally endangered species that can handle an extreme range of environmental conditions. 

Ladder Canyon Trail | Andrea Iniguez

From Dos Palmas Preserve, our group traveled to the Mecca Hills Wilderness where we spent the afternoon hiking. This area is widely recognized for its striking geological formations and its outstanding recreation opportunities, so it’s typically crowded with visitors on the weekend. Fortunately, we arrived at the Painted Canyon trailhead just after twelve and secured parking near the entrance rather quickly. Our group stopped several times throughout this hike to admire the landscape and take pictures. This trail connects to an alternative route, called Ladder Canyon, that offers travelers an exciting path through several narrow slot canyons. Our group hiked a portion of this path but we did not have enough time to complete the entire loop. Regardless, we had a lot of fun climbing up and down the medal ladders that make up this notorious hike. 

Desert Tortoise | Andrea Iniguez

As the sun began to set, we made our way to Camp Young, a World War II historical site located near Interstate 10. It was one of the twelve divisional camps built in the southwestern deserts to train United States troops for service on the battlefield of World War II. Remnants of this moment in history, including rock alignments, can be observed by visitors in the present day. Here is where I saw my first desert tortoise! It had retreated into its burrow for the winter and was in deep brumation, so it was only visible from its back. Nevertheless, I waited eagerly behind others to catch any glimpse of it. These beloved desert dwellers are considered “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to its declining population, so spotting one in the wild was a remarkable experience. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for wildlife, so coming face to face with a desert tortoise was truly memorable. This encounter really emphasized the importance of this entire region for me. Plus, it was great to share this experience with other people and see first-hand their genuine reaction. 

Coalition Members | Maricela Rosales

I wholeheartedly believe that contact with the nature has the capacity to build ties and strengthen bonds between people and communities in surprising ways. Additionally, connecting with nature doesn’t always have to be an isolated experience. We talked about our encounter with a desert tortoise thoroughly on the drive back, so it clearly left a unique impression on all of us. Many of us started this trip as strangers, but we left this trip with an interlacing story to share. That’s the beauty of the desert.