Tag Archives: Oregon

Know: Fourteen New National Monuments

Here at Vas-y Fille I’ve decided to mix things up by adding some “know” to the “do”. Because that’s what being curious ultimately boils down to right? Here’s some news that’s continued to catch my eye for some time: 14 potential new national monuments are in the works courtesy of the Obama Administration.

Despite the draft status of the list and its need for further, more serious review, it has managed to incite a backlash among conservatives; particularly the state of Utah in which two of the proposed national monuments are located. But the point here is not to argue politics. I did a little research on each of these to understand why they’ve been nominated. Here’s your chance to learn about these places and maybe put them on your list for summer adventures before the crowds descend.

The San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell. Only one paved road crosses the approximately 600,000 acres. Source: Sanrafaelswell.org

San Rafael Swell, UT

Located in South-Central Utah, the swell is a 75 by 40 mile weather-worn outcropping of sandstone, shale and limestone. Surrounded by the canyons, gorges and mesas that make Utah famous for outlaws and painters the swell holds residence for eight rare plan species alongside ancient rock art.

The Northern Prairie, MT

Few opportunities exist to conserve invaluable grassland ecosystems and their native plant and animal life. If selected, the Northern Prairie would become more than 2.5 million acres of grassland that borders Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area and Grasslands National Park in Canada. The cross-boundary conservation would provide a new bison range and preserve habitat for endangered species like the sage grouse and black-footed ferret.

Northern Montana Prairie

In Montana, the greatest threat to native prairie has been conversion to cropland. Source: Nature.org

Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM

Inhabited by the lesser prairie chicken (more than 30 percent of the population) and the sand dune lizard, the 58,000-acre preserve is a mecca of sand dunes and bluestern grasses. Placing the preserve in monument status is considered the best opportunity to avoid listing the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard as threatened or endangered.

Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA

In California, this region stretches from the lowlands of Putah Creek, through the remote areas of Cache Creek and up into Goat and Snow Mountains. Nearly 500,000 acres, it sits in the center of California’s inner Coast Ranges and is a prime corridor for migrations and habitats of an expansive list of wildlife. It’s also an unusually rich part of the California Floristic Province, considered by many to be a biological hotspot.
Heart of the Great Basin, NV
The Heart of the Great Basin centers on three mountain ranges that stand from 10,000 to 12,000 feet – the Monitor, the Toquima and the Toiyabe. Vast quantities of petroglyphs and stone artifacts allude to the area’s inhabitants almost 12,000 years ago. The region is also the center of climate change scientific research, notably in relation to the Great Basin Pika (read an article from the Journal of Biogeography on the Great Basin Pika). It includes alpine tundra, aspen groves, numerous rushing creeks and plays home to high desert sage grouse.
Otero Mesa, NM
Deep into southern New Mexico, the 1.2 million-acre mesa is a vast landscape of rolling hills covered with grasslands. Stuck in constant battle between environmental groups and oil and gas developers, the area is one of the largest intact grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert. Summertime monsoons turn the grasslands vivid greens making fall the ideal time to visit. It also plays host to more than 1,000 native wildlife spieces including the only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope in New Mexico. Unfortunatly much of the grasslands area has disappeared or reduced to small patches barely able to support native wildlife.
Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
West of Phoenix, the Sonoran Desert is largely remote and undeveloped, featuring potential for up to 500,000 acres of new wilderness. The existing Sonoran Desert National Monument protects 487,000 acres – the proposed new monument would protect additional desert to the West. Mostly broad, flat valleys with widely-scattered, small mountain ranges contribute to the landscape including the Pinacate volcanic field. Two visually dominant plants distinguish the Sonoran Desert from other North American deserts: Legume trees and columnar cacti.

Volcanic rock, sagebrush and grass cover an arid region of canyons approximately 14,000 square miles.

Owyhee Desert, OR/NV

Named after the native Hawaiians who accompanied Donald McKenzie on his 1818 exploration into the Idaho, Oregon and Nevada region, the Idaho portion (Owyhee Canyonlands) was designated wilderness in 2009. The proposed monument status would extend protection into Oregon and Nevada. The Owyhee Desert is considered one of the most remote areas in the lower U.S. with natural arches, juniper covered mountains and ancient lava flows. Many of the branching forks of the Owyhee River are pursued by river runners from around the world. The region is also home to the world’s largest heard of California bighorn sheep.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion)
In 2000 the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created to protect an extraordinarily diverse range of vegetation found in southwestern Oregon. Political constraints established the southern boundary at the California State line so it does not currently include the Klamath River tributaries. More than 50 inches of rain each year creates mountainous slopes forested with conifers – host to rare species such as the Northern Spotted Owl. The most accessible part of the existing monument is the Hyatt Lake area in Oregon.
Vermillion Basin, CO
LIke the Otero Mesa, the Vermillion Basin is also under threat of oil and gas development. Whitewater rivers flowing through petroglyph-filled canyons establish a critical migration corridor and wintering ground for big game. The petroglyphs feature bow hunting, religious figures, footprints and wildlife. One in particular rises over six feet high on a ledge 40 feet above the canyon floor. The region’s name comes from maze of sandstone cliffs and canyons that glow with red-orange rocks
Bodie Hills, CA
The town of Bodie, Calif. is one of the most famous ghost towns in the West. With a population that once reached 10,000 residents its weathered wood buildings are now preserved as part of Bodie State Historic Park. Valued for their mineral wealth, the surrounding hills are now saught for bird-watching and hiking. Uniquely, the establishment of Bodie Hills as a monument provides an opportunity to link both cultural tourism and ecotourism which would benefit the surrounding communities.  
San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway is unique - its the only state byway that inclludes a marine highway. Source: ExperienceWa.com

San Juan Islands, WA

The San Juan Islands feature 750 islands located along the U.S. / Canada border create deep channels and reef-studded bays that are home to myriad marine species. They also support major migratory routes for Orcas. Currently, 83 of the islands are preserved as part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge and many are off-limits to visitors. The San Juan Islands are part of the San Juan Archipelago split into two groups defined by national sovereignty – the San Juan Islands belong to the U.S. and the Gulf Islands belong to the Canadian province of British Columbia. The islands are part of the traditional area of the Central Coast Salish or Flathead Nation.

The Modoc Plateau, CA

Spanning close to three million acres of public land, the Modoc Plateau is tucked into California’s northeast corner and extends into Oregon and Nevada. The plateau is thought to have been formed nearly 25 million years ago and now supports several heards of wild horses. It features the Skedaddle Mountains which cover close to a half-million acres between California and Nevada. The California portion alone is considered the second largest area of unprotected wilderness in the state. Lava Bed National Monument sits at the Western edge of the plateau.
Cedar Mesa region, UT
Southwest of Blanding, Utah, the 410,000-acre area of Cedar Mesa sits just south of Natural Bridges National Monument. It also features an impressive 800-year-old ancestral Pueblan village one of thoughsands of prehistoric and historic sites from Paleo-Indian big game hunters to Mormon settlers. Edward Abbey afficionados will recognize the area as the setting for the unforgettable chase scene in The Monkey Wrench Gang.Creating a National Monument
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President of the United States to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments. Its purpose was to allow the president to quickly preserve public land without need to wait for legislation. The end goal is to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on U.S. federal lands.



Launch… of sorts

Early spring brought the idea of a meandering climbing trip through the Sierra Nevadas. Seeking desert after a snowy Seattle winter and pining for the feel of true rock under our fingertips my traveling partner and I have nailed down the first week in May. We’re fingers crossed that we haven’t passed the region’s fine line into summer sizzle. Choosing to boulder, we hope to eschew the burden of carrying gear in the heat and reduce the chance of theft if we cross into Baja for surfing. We plan to spend 11 days and nights hosted by a capable 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser outfitted with an Autohome roof top tent which means gear and necessities streamlined and lego’d into the truck’s interior for a week’s worth of easy accessibility. At trip’s end I’ll be flying home from San Diego.

So today, we launch…sorta.

We both prefer the most immediate departure, a desire that usually finds us in a Friday moonlit drive after a day of work and an evening of packing. Darkened roads mean we miss everyday terrain and wake with the sites we seek. But he’s recently fallen victim to flu symptoms and my week on Sudafed means I haven’t slept in 36 hours. Saturday morning it is. Though antsy to get on the road, we stop for last dredges of Seattle coffee, a detour to my house for my forgotten coffee cup lid and a pass through Joe’s (formerly G.I. Joe’s) to scout for eligible going out of business gear. Nada – the store is picked clean.

The first two days are strictly for driving and rain is scheduled down the length of the West coast. Though it masks the landscape, I’d rather the dumping occur on the drive and not on the rocks. And besides, the rain weaves a thick thread of understanding through an assortment of Willie, Waylon, Emmylou, Kate Wolf and Josh Ritter on stereo. We shoot down I-5 until nearing Eugene, Ore. where we split to head east. A similar path will lead you to Smith Rock State Park, six hours outside Seattle and easy access to a climbers paradise topped with hand-cranked huckleberry ice cream. It’s where I redpointed my first lead route – and I do believe my climbing parnter still owes me two scoops!

The drive around Dexter and Lookout Point Reservoirs is jawdropping and hosts a reflection of Lowell Covered Bridge in it’s darkened waters. Void of the interstate’s ubiquitous semis and billboards the creme of the forest road is cresting the Willamette Highway near Patterson Mountain and Oakridge with Highway Man on the iPod. Serene.

Early evening takes us across the Oregon / California border between Merrill and Tulelake headed to Canby. This is a gentle reminder to always note the mileage when the gas light comes on. I’m behind the wheel and tonight I would’ve been the one responsible for making the after dark trek to town or the nearest farmhouse for a nudge of gas.

Which Adin has. But everything else closes at 9:00 on a Saturday eve. And I’m crashing.

Options are the store clerk recommended back aisle microwave and frozen burritos or another 66 miles to Susanville where the casino provides all night fare. Fortified with one pack of cinnamon gummy bears, I vote to make the drive and take a chance on the existance of alternate options. Though I could do it, casino fare means a complete energy shift from a rain-soaked mountain landscape to a cacophony of sounds and lights I’d prefer not to indulge.

Fortunately a few dive bars remain open and Jack-in-the-Box makes a mean Oreo shake to keep my cinnamon buzz in check as we wrap up this leg’s last few miles. Soon after Susanville sits Honey Lake and an empty Honey Lake Campground. We pull in, circle the campground to find the best protection from increasing wind, brush teeth and quickly climb the ladder to bed.


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