The Desert

The Desert


California’s Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin deserts are among the most pristine and unique lands in the world. From painted mountains to hidden springs, from world-famous wildflowers to majestic herds of desert bighorn sheep, Americans have long been drawn to the stark beauty of California’s desert.

Preserving Our Desert’s Wild Places and Waters

Tourism and recreation are an essential part of the desert region’s economy. The desert is also a bridge to our Native American, pioneering, and homesteading roots. To this day, hikers can still follow pristine mountain streams, migrating wildlife, and historic trails for hundreds of miles, and experience a place where little has changed over thousands of years.

Paradoxically, the fragile desert environment is teeming with wildlife and plant life. This unique place needs protection from encroaching urbanization, poorly-sited renewable energy projects and other human intrusions.

Golden Valley additions. Photo by Sam Roberts

Golden Valley additions. Photo by Sam Roberts

Administrative Action Designating Three National Monuments

Given Congress’ track record of inaction, Senator Dianne Feinstein and local community leaders and advocates pursued a dual track approach of both advocating for legislation and urging President Obama to take action to designate Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments in order to permanently protect their unique features and uses for current and future generations.  On February 12, 2016, President Obama officially designated those public lands. In doing so, the President followed in the footsteps of nearly every president since 1906 – eight Republicans and eight Democrats – who have used the Antiquities Act more than 140 times to protect special places, including Joshua Tree and Death Valley.  National Monument status means that these lands will be permanently protected from renewable energy development and other harmful development while maintaining public access for recreation activities such as hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, star-gazing, and more.

Follow the links below to find out more about each of these important areas from the Campaign for the California Desert, which CalWild leads.

Mojave Trails National Monument – One of North America’s most unique landscapes, the Mojave Desert is home to vital wildlife habitat, unspoiled desert vistas, and an incredible slice of American history. Mojave Trails is the connective tissue linking Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park and existing Wilderness Areas, providing habitat for sensitive wildlife and pristine scenery. It contains irreplaceable archaeological and cultural sites including sacred Native American trails and trade routes.

Sand to Snow National Monument – Rising dramatically from the Sonoran Desert floor to snowy peaks of Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s tallest alpine mountain, the Sand to Snow National Monument is one of the most critical wildlife corridors in Southern California. It also boasts stunning cultural sites including a rich heritage of Native American petroglyphs and mortars.

Castle Mountains National Monument – The Castle Mountains encompass native desert grasslands and wildlife habitat for golden eagles, and some of the finest Joshua tree, pinon pine, and juniper forests in the California Desert. The area features stunning vistas of the rocky California and Nevada desert mountain ranges, including Nevada’s Spirit Mountain, which is revered by southwestern Native American tribes and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Passing the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act

In March 2019, CalWild celebrated another massive victory with Senator Feinstein when her California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (and Rep. Cook’s accompanying bill) were passed as part of the sprawling John. D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. This bill helped protect 375,500 acres of new wilderness,  73 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, and builds on the Senator’s historic California Desert Protection Act, which became law in 1994. It also enlarged Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks by 39,835 acres and established the 81,800-acre Vinagre Wash Special Management Area in Imperial County, where many ecologically sensitive areas and Native American heritage sites would be protected.

CalWild is continuing to lead the Campaign for the California Desert – a coalition of conservation groups, community leaders, and businesses – to advocate for these successes and ensure proper implementation of the protections they designated.

California Desert

CalWild and our allies helped:

  • pass the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (CDPRA) in 2019; and
  • designate Mojave Trail, Castle Mountains, and Sand to Snow National Monuments in 2016

Get The Facts

Get downloadable fact sheets on the various wilderness areas throughout the California Desert.

Find A Hike

Make your own adventure! Go on a hike and explore the California Desert.