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CalWild connects in the desert

Story by Andrea Iniguez, Riverside County Public Lands Fellow

For years, CalWild has brought together its team for countless meetings and events. This year, with a few new staff and board members and our current campaign work demanding more attention than ever, we realized that this was the perfect time to come together for a few days of adventure, team-building, and education. For this year’s CalWild retreat, our staff and board explored the many wonders of the California desert.

CalWild board and staff hiking in Mecca Hills

A chuckwalla in the Chuckwalla National Monument

We had fun visiting several areas within the California desert, one being the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument, which included a trip to Corn Springs Campground where we picnicked, hiked, and spotted a large male chuckwalla basking in the sun. This was perfect luck given the name of our proposed monument. Given these creatures’ coloring is directly related to their surroundings, and the scope of geologic/biological variety in the Mojave, we were especially pleased to find one with the local coloring. We also spotted a timid desert cottontail while visiting Camp Young, so this wasn’t our only interaction with wildlife that weekend. In many ways, these experiences with wildlife were a pleasant reminder of the positive impact our organization has had on the region. 

A Chuckwalla in the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument

Over the years, CalWild has celebrated many key accomplishments related to California’s desert, including the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 which designated sixty-nine areas as wilderness. The 112,326 acres of the Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness, which surrounds Corn Springs Campground, was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System as a direct result of this law. It was incredible to see an area CalWild worked passionately to protect, be filled with so much life. Board and staff members were able to immerse for a few days without the filter of a computer screen. While online platforms are important tools for connecting and sharing information, they can never truly replace the benefits of in-person experiences.

The gap between the past, present, and the future

Our campsite in The Wildland Conservancy’s Mission Creek Preserve was the perfect setting to build and strengthen our relationships with one another in the evenings through playful activities like board games and storytelling. One night, we all gathered to listen to Linda, our Assistant Policy Director, share a collection of testimonials from World War II veterans detailing their experience training in the region for battle. Through these stories, our group connected with people from the past. While learning about some of the extreme challenges they faced during their training, we collectively laughed when one soldier humorously described his daily life through satire. We drew connections to our own reality from the beautiful descriptions these soldiers shared of the blazing desert days and the frigid nights.  In many ways, these stories helped bridge the gap between the past, the present, and the landscape. 

We ended the retreat with a short hike along the Whitewater River. This year’s rain significantly increased the river’s water flow, making it dangerous to cross, so we admired its beauty from a safe distance. The path that followed the river was exceptionally rich with vegetation, leaving an unforgettable impression on all of us. As we followed its path, we could feel the unmistakable presence of time chipping away at the moment. We would all need to say our goodbyes soon.

Dup and Dan exploring Painted Canyon Ladder Trail

Moments like these don’t last forever, but perhaps the connections we build and the memories we create can have rippling effects on the landscape for generations to come. As we continue the collective work of advocating for these beloved places, let’s always remember the connections that galvanize this movement.