Sand to Snow National Monument designation protects the PCT

By Anitra Kass and Mark Larabee

By designating three new national monuments in Southern California last week, President Barack Obama strengthened protections on more than 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail while connecting vast tracts of important open spaces.

The Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments cover more than 1.8 million acres and connect Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and 15 Congressionally designated wilderness areas. They piece together nearly 10 million acres of desert lands, preserving rich plant and animal diversity and cultural sites. On Feb. 11, President Obama designated the monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Sand to Snow includes the PCT while rising nearly 10,000 feet from the Sonoran Desert floor to the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, which at 11,500-feet is the highest mountain in southern California and is considered sacred by the Luiseño Indians. The monument includes a wide range of ecosystems, from the lowland Mojave and Colorado deserts to scrub and woodlands and Mediterranean chaparral to subalpine and alpine conifer forests. It also includes sand dunes, Native American petroglyphs and one of the continent’s youngest volcanoes. The monument’s 154,000 acres lies between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest.

The Pacific Crest Trail in Sand to Snow National Monument. Photo by Carolyn Tepolt

The Pacific Crest Trail in Sand to Snow National Monument. Photo by Carolyn Tepolt

“Thirty miles of the world famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail run through the Sand to Snow area, climbing 7,000 feet from the desert of Whitewater Canyon to Mission Springs in the San Bernardino National Forest,” the president’s official proclamation states. “The history of this renowned trail dates back to the 1920s when the idea of a border-to-border trail was first conceptualized. Although the establishment of the trail took decades to fully materialize, today the trail is a national icon, highlighting the wilderness treasures of the American West. Since its completion, over 3,000 people have hiked the 2,600 miles of continuous trail along the Pacific crest, including the Mission Creek Canyon segment found within the Sand to Snow area.”

North of Interstate 10, the PCT passes through a few miles of the monument and then exits for a few miles at a wind farm. After passing the windmills, hikers and horseback riders re-enter the new monument and remain there through the San Gorgonio Wilderness, Whitewater Canyon and Mission Creek. The trail is within the monument’s boundary until just north of Coon Creek Jump-off and Coon Creek Cabin.

“Home to desert oases at Big Morongo Canyon and Whitewater Canyon, the area serves as a refuge for desert dwelling animals and a stopover for migrating birds,” the presidential proclamation states. “The archaeological riches of the Black Lava Buttes and the historical remains of mining and ranching communities tell of past prosperity and struggle in this arid land. The unbroken expanse is an invaluable treasure for our Nation and will continue to serve as an irreplaceable resource for archaeologists, geologists, and biologists for generations to come.”

As much of the PCT located within the monument is also in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, PCT users won’t see much change to the area or the trail. The designation will, however, provide an additional layer of protection both for the trail and for the surrounding viewshed, meaning that the peaceful experience now enjoyed will be forever preserved. Motorized vehicle use will only be permitted on existing roads. Further, “Non-motorized mechanized vehicle use shall be permitted only on roads and trails designated for their use consistent with the care and management” of the monument.

After much work, letter writing, attending public and private meetings, it’s thrilling to know that the PCTA played a small part in providing this outstanding recreational opportunity to the public. In addition, huge kudos go to the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, The Center for Biological Diversity, the Mojave Desert Land Trust, CalWild and the Wildlands Conservancy. They all served as amazing partners and leaders to help get these monuments designated.

Now it’s our job to go out and enjoy these special places!

Find this map of Sand to Snow National Monument, and much more, on the U.S. Forest Service website.

Find this map of Sand to Snow National Monument, and much more, on the U.S. Forest Service website.

Author: Anitra Kass

Anitra Kass is PCTA’s Southern California Regional Representative. She's in charge of the PCT from the Mexican border north approximately 700 miles to Kennedy Meadows. Anitra partners with four National Forests, one BLM office and three CA State Park in the maintenance and management of the PCT. She works out of Borrego Dunes, Calif. She has completed the Triple Crown.