Sunday, May 25, 2008

Part III--Interview with Curt Sauer

In Part I and Part II of this interview I talked with Curt about his background and his concerns regarding Joshua Tree National Park.

Allison: Curt, what do you take pride in at Joshua Tree National Park?

Curt: I'm proud of the overwhelming positive support for this park and its resources. In the five years that I've been here, I have yet to find someone who does not like the park. Folks may not like some of our use rules or the size of the campsites, et cetera, but no one dislikes the park and its programs. Old-timers still call it the Monument. That's an amazing statement for a superintendent to be able to make.

I'm proud of the people who work at this park. The employees care about this place. They strive to produce excellent results within the budget they are given. Many of them give extra hours to the park, its programs, and to the visiting public.

Allison: What else do you take pride in?

Curt: I'm proud of the accomplishments we've made to date concerning threats to the park from outside development. Eight thousand acres on the southwest boundary of the park,
known as Joshua Hills (mentioned in Part II of this interview) , were slated to become a city of 35,000 people. The land has been acquired by a host of partners and will be delegated as open space in perpetuity.

We are in the process of acquiring 639 acres east of Yucca Valley with private funds to prevent degradation of an area of Nolinas (a beautiful, flowering plant related to the agave) and to stop the potential development of this hillside. Because of this, Joshua Tree National Park is protected and the town of Yucca Valley will have a viewshed into the park sans development.

A basin-wide group called the Open Space Group is working to protect the treasures of the Morongo basin. Local towns, federal and state agencies, as well as local elected officials and water boards are all involved.

Thank you, Curt, for sharing your insights and concerns about Joshua Tree National Park! For anyone who hasn't visited the park, it's a wonderful place to spend a day, a weekend, or a week experiencing its beauty.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Part II--Interview with Curt Sauer

In Part I of this interview I talked with Curt Sauer, veteran of the National Park Service and superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. We talked about how he came to work at the park, what his job is like, and visitors' favorite sites. Check it out here if you missed it.

Allison: Curt, what are your concerns regarding Joshua Tree National Park?

Curt: I'm concerned that Joshua Tree National Park will become an island surrounded by human development and walled communities, with population growth specifically outside the north and south park boundaries, and the fact that plants and wildlife will not be able to migrate and move through those communities.

In the next 20 years, by some estimates 100,000 people are expected to move into the Morongo Basin. The arrival of a Home Depot in Yucca Valley last October and of a planned Super-Walmart this coming year predicts future growth. The cities of Yucca Valley and 29 Palms would also like to preserve those open spaces.

Allison: What other concerns do you have regarding the park?

Curt: In Paradise Valley, north of Interstate 10, in Pinkham Canyon, four miles from Joshua Tree National Park, plans have been proposed for a planned community of 30-40,000 people. Feral cats, domestic cats and dogs, and the lights at night would impact the park's insects and owls.

Ivanpah Valley Airport, being built in Ivanpah, Nevada, will be in operation by 2017. The Ivanpah Valley Airport will grow larger than McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. According to a state report, an additional eight million people will be moving into Southern California from Bakersfield south. They'll need to recreate somewhere.

Eventually, mountain lion, deer, and bobcat populations may not be able to readily move from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the park, which will further isolate the park's populations.

A Los Angeles DWP Green Path has been proposed--a 200 foot tall, 500 kilowatt transmission line that will start east of Highway 62. To be gained in part by eminent domain, the line would run through Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Pioneertown, and feed into Victorville. The term "green" is a misnomer. Only 20% of the energy would come from geothermal solar fields near the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley.

A proposed landfill near Eagle Mountain, adjacent to the park, would put garbage on pristine land. It's the cumulative effect of all these things that will impact Joshua Tree National Park.

Talk about The Centennial Act.

Curt: To prepare for the National Park Service's 100th Anniversary in 2016, Congress recently passed the Centennial Act, the first of 10 years of additional funding--with a $100 million base this year alone, over and above a cost-of-living increase--for the national parks. This will enable us at Joshua Tree National Park to double our volunteer staff and hire 29 seasonal employees from Centennial Act monies--14 interpreters, 11 rangers, and 4 maintenance workers.

The current administration, and Laura Bush, the Honorary Chair of the Junior Ranger Program, loves our national parks. Support of the national parks changes by personal interest, not by political party.

Tell us about renovations taking place in the park in the future.

Curt: We have used$17 million of Federal Highways Funds over the past 8 years to repair and replace 22 miles of roads along Route 12 and Keys View. By 2011 we'll start to work on the road to Cottonwood (the park's south entrance).

In Part III of this interview Curt will talk about the many things he takes pride in at Joshua Tree National Park.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Part I--Interview with Curt Sauer

Today's post begins a three-part interview with Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. A veteran of the National Park Service, Curt has been at his current job for five years.

Allison: Curt, tell us about your background.

Curt: I've been with the National Park Service for 32 years--at Rocky Mountain National Park and then at the Grand Canyon as a backcountry ranger, dispatcher, and at the river unit for three years. I was transferred to Olympic National Park where I was the chief ranger for nine years. I enrolled in an executive development program to apply for superintendency, then applied for this job when it came up.

Allison: What was it like to work in the Cascade Mountains for all those years and then move to the desert?

Curt: I came to Joshua Tree National Park five years ago, during a drought. Before my family came down, on weekends I rented a car and drove into the park and went hiking. One day when I was hiking in the Pinto Y Arrastra, I sat down to rest and noticed a lizard eating a blade of grass. When I looked up at the hillside, I noticed the green there, too. It took my mind three weeks to look at the desert and see the green.

Allison: As superintendent of JTNP, what are your responsibilities?

Curt: To make sure that the park is taken care of, to see that the visitors enjoy themselves. It's like running a little town. We maintain the roads, dispose of waste in the campgrounds, and are in charge of maintenance and operations and of interpretive operation. We're in charge of law enforcement in the park--things like speeding, drugs, domestic disputes, and the poaching of reptiles. We manage natural and cultural resources, and administration for 90 employees.

Allison: What is a typical workday like?

Curt: There's no such thing as a typical workday in the National Park Service, which is why this is such a great job. As part of my job, I also attend meetings where I have the oportunity to talk to the public and work with the community and our partners.

Allison: What are the most frequently visited sites at the park?

Curt: I'd say the Wonderland of Rocks. The entrance is near the Wall Street Mill. Also, Barker Dam, the Hidden Valley nature trails, and the Cholla Garden. The park's best-kept secret is Keys Ranch, which offers tours. Most people visit the western side of the park. Wildflowers bloomed earlier this spring in Pinto Valley at the east end of the park, too.

Allison: How many visitors come to the park each year?

Curt: Each year Joshua Tree National Park sees 1.25 million visitors.

In Part II of this post Curt will share his concerns regarding Joshua Tree National Park. In Part III Curt will talk about what he takes pride in. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Joshua Tree Music Festival--May 16-18 2008

Check out the 6th annual Joshua Tree Music Festival on May 16-18 with camping and a designated Kidsville. The artists include Ghostland Observatory, JJ Grey & Mofro, Afromotive, and the B-side Players. Plan for weather in the 90s. Visit the festival website here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Desert Queen Mine--Joshua Tree National Park

A few weekends ago, William and I were out hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, enjoying the amazing season of wildflowers. We drove through Queen Valley and parked at the trail head that led to the the old Desert Queen Mine, a twenty minute walk down a steep hillside.

The gold mine was founded in 1894 by Frank L. James. It has a history of murder and payoffs as the profitable goldmine changed hands over the years until it fell into the hands of longtime desert resident and homesteader Bill Keys. Keys lived with his family at the nearby Desert Queen Ranch for nearly 50 years.

William and I followed the trail down into a gorge. We looked up at the massive hillside where the many mine shafts opened like mouths to the sun. I imagined what it would have been like to live here a hundred years ago when mining in the area that is now Joshua Tree National Park was at its peak.

Guided tours of the Desert Queen Ranch are offered to the public. For more information, click here.

Coming up I'll be posting a two-part interview with Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. Curt has an interesting behind-the-scenes perspective. It was great hearing what he had to say.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Whitewater Preserve--Desert Poetry and Nature Writing Workshop

Only the desert has a fascination--to ride alone--in the sun in the forever unpossessed country--away from man. That is a great temptation.

--D.H. Lawrence

A few Sundays ago my friend, writing professor Ruth Nolan led another wonderful outdoor desert writing workshop. A handful of us writers, including my husband, William, spent a day at Whitewater Preserve, an oasis set back between the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains off Highway 10 on the road to Palm Springs.

The Whitewater Preserve, a former trout farm, spread over 2,851 acres, is part of The Wildlands Conservancy, a group of five local preserves--areas of dedicated wilderness--that cover 33,000 acres. Whitewater Canyon is an important wildlife corridor for endangered species like the southwest willow flycatcher and bell's vireo as well as a habitat for bighorn sheep. Year round, a river spills over the white rocks down through the canyon.

For part of our workshop the group of us picnicked under a grandfather cottonwood. Ruth gave us a writing exercise using the old tree as a prompt and another using the river as a metaphor.

The preserve has a lodge and picnic area, and is free and open to the public. For more information check out the website here. What an inspiring place!