Stewardship on the Desert Conservation Lands Retrospective: The Amargosa River Trail

In coming weeks, we expect the Bureau of Land Management to finalize the Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan (DRECP), in which the public lands of the Amargosa Basin are likely to be designated at California Desert Conservation Lands. To celebrate, we are highlighting the decade-long partnership between the Amargosa Conservancy and the BLM to engage in stewardship on these lands, highlighting why it is so important that they be protected, and showcasing the value of their designation as California Desert Conservation Lands. See last week’s post on tamarisk removal here, and stay tuned for more in coming weeks!

Willow Creek and the Amargosa Canyon, soon to be protected.

Willow Creek and the Amargosa Canyon, soon to be protected.

One of the most outstanding pieces of public land in the entire Southwestern United States proposed to be protected as California Desert Conservation Lands in the Willow Creek/Amargosa Canyon corridor. Here, the Amargosa River has gouged a deep cut into the Pleistocene lakebed deposits which form the bedrock, resulting in a spectacular and multicolored canyon known as the Amargosa Canyon. Willow Creek is a major tributary of the Amargosa River, and while the river in this area has protection as Wild and Scenic, Willow Creek and the adjacent portions of the Amargosa Canyon have been heretofore unprotected.

For the past several years the Amargosa Conservancy, in partnership with the California Natural Resources Agency and the Bureau of Land Management, has been constructing and improving a trail to provide public access to Willow Creek and the Amargosa Canyon. This trail is intended to provide the public ready access to the Wild and Scenic River, which is otherwise difficult to reach, and to showcase the many fascinating resources which will be protected once the land is designated California Desert Conservation Lands.

Concrete forms at the China Ranch trailhead.

Concrete forms at the China Ranch trailhead.

The trail begins on private property at the world famous China Ranch Date Farm. The Brown Family, longtime owners and proprietors of China Ranch, have very graciously granted the Amargosa Conservancy an easement to allow public access to the trail. Thus one of the significant portions of the project has been trailhead improvements- we are installing picnic tables, shade structures, a parking area, and even a vault toilet. This has proven to be a challenging facet of the project, as AC staff are long on experience in trail building, but short on experience in heavy construction. We owe a debt of gratitude to our board member John Hiatt, who has served as construction foreman on the project.

Ever installed a vault toilet before? It’s a heck of a process! Who would have thought that the structure and the vault combined would weigh 25 tons? Check out this video to watch the installation:

Vault toilet installation

The Amargosa Canyon trail system.

The Amargosa Canyon trail system.

It’s not just toilets and picnic tables, though! We are also constructing and rehabilitating four miles of trail, forming a route network which will provide access to the canyon itself, the historic Acme mining site, an old trading post/cabin, and a fascinating geologic feature called the Slot Canyon.

We have had several crews from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) come to do work on our trail over the years, including a several month stint most recently by SCA’s  WildCorps roving crew. We are thrilled to play host to SCA crews! All of the Amargosa Conservancy’s staff got their start in conservation work as interns on SCA crews, and we are so grateful to be able to provide young people opportunities to get involved in the land and get their hands dirty while getting valuable experience to jumpstart their careers in conservation.

2014 AmeriCorps crew at the trailhead.

2014 AmeriCorps crew at the trailhead.

Also worth noting: the first one half mile of the trail is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making it one of the only wheelchair accessible trails on BLM land in the California desert! We are proud to provide access to our spectacular resources to all visitors, and are grateful to the California Natural Resources Agency for earmarking funds to ensure ADA compliance.

We also need to give a shout-out to our BLM partners, who have worked with us every step of the way to ensure that the trail provides appropriate access to the canyon while safeguarding the precious natural and cultural resources that lie there. One unforgettable day, three BLM staffers and two AC staff did archaeological clearances when temperatures topped 110 degrees! BLM has been an integral part of this project from the beginning, and we are excited that they are now taking the next step, and permanently protecting this area.

In the next few weeks, when Willow Creek and the Amargosa Canyon are permanently protected as California Desert Conservation Lands, visitors will have a ready-made place to come visit their new natural heritage. We encourage you to come down to China Ranch and experience the splendor of your newly protected desert lands for yourself- what better way to celebrate? In the meantime, enjoy the photos below as you plan your trip to the Amargosa.

phragmites no before picture

New trail tread in the ADA-compliant portion of the trail.

 

Amargosa Conservancy intern Jayna Saymes leads an interpretive hike along the trail.

Amargosa Conservancy intern Jayna Saymes leads an interpretive hike along the trail.

 

 

The dark and mysterious Slot Canyon, a destination of the new trail.

The dark and mysterious Slot Canyon, a destination of the new trail.