July 14, 2017

Rescind new monuments


Letters to the Editor

By Jim Bagley, Twentynine Palms
Hi-Desert Star


If I had told you 40 years ago that Joshua Tree National Monument would start charging fees to let you in, it would cost you $25 just to visit, and if you had an annual pass the Park Service would demand you show a valid photo ID to use it like some totalitarian country demanding “papers” from you to enter, you would’ve said that’s an outrageous concept. But in 2017 that is exactly the reality of where we are.

Most of the monument has been converted into wilderness, numerous roads open during my lifetime have all been closed, every road now has a lockable gate and any new lands that have added to the now “park” don’t include any new campgrounds or facilities, it just added more closed areas made inaccessible to historic, sensible public access.

Now we have the Mojave Trails National Monument and all the other political monuments across America that President Obama rushed to create before his administration was out of office. How is implementing a one-sided mandate without open participation and bipartisan consensus reflecting the fairness of the American character Mr. Obama so copiously lectured us about? The zealous environmentalist who called upon Obama to use his power to cut to the public out of any longterm management policies cheered him on and boisterously celebrated having their own way.

President Trump is now taking the initiative to include everybody in the discussion about our public lands by asking for a review and direct public input on all recent large-scale Antiquities Act orders. What a revolutionary concept, actually asking for public input instead dictating one party vision with executive action.

The same people who fought to cut the public out of the discussion and off the public lands are crying foul and organizing protests against the review. Wow, how shocking the elitists are self-righteously offended that other people (undoubtedly the deplorables) with another point of view should be heard.

The Secretary of the Interior should recommend these politically created monuments be rescinded in the interest of the highest and best use of our American public lands. We should have an inclusive honest, open discussion about the best long-range management for the Mojave Desert. Let’s include a re-examination of the political wilderness areas that were closed under the fervent parochial effort in 1994 of the California Desert Protection Act. If recreation as an economic goal is a part of the monument strategy, we should restore reasonable access to closed historic roads and campsites for tourism and let the locals enjoy these special places again.

Let’s start with absolute transparency. The folks who created the maps for the Obama monuments excluding the public should clearly identify themselves. Take ownership of your agenda and disclose to the public exactly who had influence in Obama administration. I want to have a say in what happens too! Obama did not ask for public participation.

If making “monuments for everyone” is truly the goal, then everyone should be included cooperatively in the formation of public lands policy. President Obama’s misuse of the Antiquities Act to exclude the public from an open, transparent process to make decisions on the American landscape is offensive. If there is legitimate widespread support for the monuments, why not the let the public democratic process work and send any new land use designations to Congress and get bipartisan consensus?

I have been locked out of too many wonderful places once open to everyone by intolerant, discriminatory, partisan land use policies. In the future I do not want to be forced to pay a government fee to visit Amboy, just because it is in one of Obama’s monuments.

July 13, 2017

L.A. took their water and land a century ago. Now the Owens Valley is fighting back

The Los Angeles Aqueduct, which transports water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, was built in the early 1900s. (Los Angeles Times)

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times


BISHOP, CALIF. -- A century ago, agents from Los Angeles converged on the Owens Valley on a secret mission.

They figured out who owned water rights in the lush valley and began quietly purchasing land, posing as ranchers and farmers.

Soon, residents of the Eastern Sierra realized much of the water rights were now owned by Los Angeles interests. L.A. proceeded to drain the valley, taking the water via a great aqueduct to fuel the metropolis’ explosive growth.

This scheme became an essential piece of California history and the subject of the classic 1974 film “Chinatown.” In the Owens Valley, it is still known as the original sin that sparked decades of hatred for Los Angeles as the valley dried up and ranchers and farmers struggled to make a living.

But now, the Owens Valley is trying to rectify this dark moment in its history.

Officials have launched eminent domain proceedings in an effort to take property acquired by Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

Owens Valley wants to reclaim its history

It is the first time Inyo County has used eminent domain rules against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns 25% of the Owens Valley floor, officials said Wednesday.

Unlike previous battles with the DWP that focused on the environmental and economic damage caused by L.A.'s pumping of local water supplies, the county seeks to pay fair market value for property and water rights needed for landfills, parks, commerce and ranchlands along a 112-mile stretch of Highway 395 east of the Sierra Nevada.

“We’re using a hammer the DWP has never seen before in Owens Valley,” Inyo County Supervisor Rick Pucci said. “Our goal is the future health and safety of our communities.”

The move comes after years of efforts by Los Angeles to make amends for taking the region’s land and water. In 2013, for instance, the city agreed to fast-track measures to control toxic dust storms that have blown across the eastern Sierra Nevada since L.A. opened the aqueduct a century ago that drained Owens Lake.

As a gesture of conciliation, the city a year ago erected a $4.6-million monument of granite and sculpted earth that now rises from a dry bed of Owens Lake. It features a public plaza with curved granite walls inspired by the wing shapes of shorebirds. Sculptures of earth and rock have been made to resemble whitecaps like those that graced the lake’s surface before it was transformed into a noxious dust bowl.

L.A. concerns about giving back land


But in Owens Valley, Angelenos bearing gifts have always elicited skepticism, and occasionally sparked eruptions of violence. The aqueduct was dynamited repeatedly after increased pumping exacerbated a drought during the 1920s that laid waste to local farms and businesses.

Inyo County officials see their effort to take back DWP land as an important step in taking back local control.

That worries DWP officials, who acknowledged they were caught off guard by the action.

“This is brand new. It could be a slippery slope and where it would lead us I don’t know,” Marty Adams, chief operating officer at the agency, said. “The county also wants the water rights on certain properties, which could have a cascading effect. We’re very concerned about that.”

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors directed its staff to study the use of eminent domain after the DWP a year ago proposed a fourfold rent increase of more than $20,000 annually at a landfill in Bishop operated by the county on land it has leased from the DWP for decades, Rick Benson, assistant county administrator, said.

The proposed lease included a clause allowing the DWP to terminate the agreement for any reason with a 180-day notice, he said.

After months of heated negotiations, the county approved the new three-year lease agreement in January because, Benson said: “We had no choice.”

“We’re mandated by the state to provide environmentally sound means of disposal,” he said. “But the cost of abandoning that landfill and building and certifying a new one elsewhere would be astronomical.”

Beyond that, he said, the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery refused to renew an operating permit for the landfill until a new lease was in place on the property.

Valley towns struggling to survive

In March, Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio notified the DWP of the county’s decision to condemn that landfill site and two others in the towns of Independence and Lone Pine. That would set in motion legal proceedings that could lead to its taking ownership from the DWP.

A county appraisal concluded a fair market value for the total 200 acres of $522,000, county officials said. On Monday, the DWP declined that offer, saying it had yet to complete its own appraisals.

Some officials are already raising the possibility of mounting crowd-sourcing campaigns to fund additional acquisitions of DWP land for public benefit.

“The county would obviously like more economic opportunities,” the DWP’s Adams said, “and we support that.”

In the meantime, Owens Valley towns — including Big Pine, Independence, Lone Pine and Olancha — struggle to survive, with most of their developable land and water rights controlled by the DWP.

In 1997, the DWP agreed to relinquish 75 acres in the Owens Valley for residential and commercial uses, and the county amended its General Plan to ensure that land exchanges did not result in a net loss of tax base or revenues. Since then, county officials say, lots on only a fraction of that acreage have changed hands because the DWP has tended to set minimum bids far above market value.

In 2009, a group of Owens Valley residents sent a petition to then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council urging them to force the DWP to compensate for the loss of private land it planned to buy in the region by releasing an equal amount of its own holdings elsewhere. The city never responded, according to activists who helped write the petition.

The DWP has spent more than $1 billion to comply with a 1997 agreement with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District to combat the powder-fine dust from the dry 110-square-mile Owens Lake bed.

Separately, after decades of political bickering and a bruising court fight, the DWP directed water back into a 62-mile-long stretch of the Lower Owens River that had been left essentially dry after its flows of Sierra snowmelt were diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. But it later balked at removing thick stands of reeds that swiftly choked the renewed river.

The DWP caused an uproar during the drought in 2015 when it gave ranchers 48 hours’ notice of its intention to reduce their irrigation water from the usual 49,000 acre-feet a year to 20,500 acre-feet a year. The agency abandoned the deadline after Inyo County threatened to seek an injunction to stop what it claimed was a violation of long-term water agreements that would devastate the local economy.

Some itching for a fight with L.A.


Farming and ranching generate $20 million a year in rural Inyo County, second only to tourism, officials said.

Jenifer Castaneda, a Lone Pine real estate broker and community activist, had one word to say about the county’s use of eminent domain: “Awesome.”

Castaneda said she only hopes local leaders are ready for a long fight and that they don’t “cave when Los Angeles dangles some kind of big fat carrot in front of their noses."

July 12, 2017

Rep. Cook signs support of national monument reduction


By Charity Lindsey
Victorville Daily Press


Republican Congressman Paul Cook recently signed a letter to the Department of the Interior recommending the reduction of some national monuments, despite nonprofit efforts to preserve their boundaries and designations.

In a June 30 letter to DOI Secretary Zinke signed by Cook and 16 other members of congress from western states, lawmakers claim that the “misuse of this outdated 1906 Act has jeopardized the daily activities, livelihoods and traditions of local communities,” including energy development, wildfire prevention efforts and recreational activities like hunting and fishing.

The letter provides an analysis of the 27 monuments currently under the DOI’s review, recommending a reduction of the Mojave Trails National Monument and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, much to the discontent of the Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT), whose representatives claim Cook “has not communicated with his constituents” about the Executive Order.

“It is outrageous that Rep. Cook would go behind the backs of his constituents to argue that one of our Mojave Monuments be diminished,” MDLT Executive Director Danielle Segura said. “The Mojave Desert Land Trust has invested in this landscape for over a decade, and worked alongside many diverse local groups, to create this monument. Rep. Cook couldn’t even wait until the public had commented before trying to strip protections on land important to the local community.”

But in a statement to the Daily Press Tuesday, Cook said that as a government official, “I don’t submit public comments, as this is the domain of the public.”

″Once the letter was submitted, it was published on the Western Caucus website and made available for anyone to view,” Cook said. “To assert that this was done in secret is laughable at best. In fact, my staff sent a link to this letter directly to the staff of the Mojave Desert Land Trust the same day it was sent to Secretary Zinke.”

MDLT has collected more than 1,250 comments focused specifically on the importance of the monuments in the Mojave. The Desert Defenders campaign comment period began May 10, two weeks after the executive order, which impacts four sites affecting San Bernardino County: The San Gabriel Mountains, Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow national monuments.

Mojave Trails is located between interstates 15 and 40 and partially surrounds the Mojave National Preserve. While San Gabriel was designated in October 2014, the others were all established in February of last year.

Cook noted that the letter recognized the local support for the Sand to Snow National Monument, which the congress members requested no changes to.

“On the other hand, the former President nearly doubled the total size of the Mojave Trails National Monument from any of the previous proposals,” Cook said. “This was accomplished without any public comment. This letter simply recognizes the illegitimacy of this action and asks that President Trump follow the publicly debated boundaries while rolling back the former President’s overreach.”

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors also sent a letter to the Department of the Interior on May 31, stating its position “that any national monument designations should go through the legislative process, rather than by Presidential Proclamation under The Antiquities Act.”

July 6, 2017

Bill would curb massive Cadiz desert water project

Cadiz Inc. plans to pump the Mojave Desert aquifer and transport that water to Southern California communities. (Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

By DAVID DANELSKI
The Press-Enterprise


The battle over plans by a Los Angeles company to sell water pumped from aquifers underneath Mojave Desert conservation areas heated up again this week when state legislation was amended to require a new round of state reviews.

The legislation’s new language, by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, would stop major pumping until state land and wildlife officials determined that groundwater extractions would not harm wildlife or cultural resources.

The legislation is in response to the Cadiz desert water project that has been prioritized by the Trump administration.

Cadiz officials called the legislation a flawed attempt to further delay the project.

Cadiz wants to pump groundwater from wells on land its owns in the Cadiz Valley that is surrounded by the Mojave Trails National Monument. These wells would draw water from connected aquifers below the Cadiz, Bristol and Fenner valleys that supply springs within the monuments as well as the Mojave National Preserve.

The water would be piped more than 40 miles across federal lands along a railroad right of way to the Colorado River Aqueduct. It would then be ferried to water customers in suburban Southern California.

The project has been staunchly opposed by environmental groups and other desert advocates, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 that created the Mojave National Preserve and protected 69 wilderness areas between the Mexican border and the town of Bishop.

If it passes the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the new state law also would be called the California Desert Protection Act.

Contacted by cell phone, Friedman, a first-year legislator, said her aim is to conserve the water below the desert conservation areas that wildlife depends upon.

“This is the water that supports the desert’s ecosystem, and it is vitally important,” she said.

The law would prohibit taking groundwater from a large swath of the Mojave unless the State Lands Commission, working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, finds that pumping “will not adversely affect the natural or cultural resources of those federal and state lands,” the bill says.

Friedman said the Cadiz project could go forward under the law if the new state reviews find it does no harm.

The Cadiz company issued a statement Thursday, July 6, that contends the legislation is designed “to further delay the Cadiz Water Project” by using a “gut and amend” legislative process, which is “universally condemned.” (The original bill, AB 1000, pertained to water meter standards.)

The company’s statement said the project was previously reviewed under state environmental disclosure laws and “found to have no adverse impacts on the environment.” Those reviews were done about 17 years ago.

The Cadiz project would “create a safe, sustainable water supply for 400,000 people,” as well as about “$1 billion economic activity and close to 6,000 jobs,” the company statement added.

The Santa Margarita Water District in southern Orange County plans to buy between 5,000 to 10,000 acre-feet a year, said district spokesman Jim Leach. In all, the project would pump as much as 50,000 acre-feet a year, depending on how the water tables are affected by the extraction, he said.

“We are really disappointed,” Leach said. “We see this legislation as a roadblock to delay the project.”

But Feinstein and other critics maintain the Cadiz project is unsustainable.

In May, the senator released a letter from the U.S. Geological Survey that said a 2000 analysis by the agency found that the Cadiz, Bristol and Fenner basins naturally recharged water at rates of 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet a year — just a fraction the rate water would be pumped out of these basins.

The Trump administration has made moves favorable to the project. In April, it rescinded a 2014 policy directive that was used to find in 2015 that Cadiz needed to obtain a federal right of way permit and thus had to complete comprehensive environmental studies before it could build a water pipeline in the railroad right of way.

The Trump transition team also put Cadiz on a list of priority projects.

“If the federal government is not going to do these environmental reviews, the state has a responsibility to do them,” Friedman said.

It's magical legal thinking to say Trump can't reverse Obama's national monuments

The northernmost boundary of the proposed Bears Ears region in Utah on May 23, 2016. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 26 directing his interior secretary to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands. (Francisco Kjolseth / Associated Press)

Opinion-Editorial

By Todd Gaziano and John Yoo
Los Angeles Times


Suppose President Trump declared much of California, Nevada and Oregon — states that just happened to vote against him — off-limits to economic development and recreational use. Suppose he barred all mining, grazing, agriculture and even camping from these states’ federal lands (roughly 46% of California, 85% of Nevada and 53% of Oregon) under a law to preserve national monuments of scientific and historical interest.

According to some environmentalists and legal scholars, we would have to live with this result. They believe a president can permanently designate federal land as a monument and restrict its uses — even if we’re talking about millions of acres (138 million acres in the example above), far removed from any real historical or scientific significance, and over the objections of the states involved.

But a presidential power to create permanent national monuments flies in the face of the plain text of federal law, the conventional relationship between presidents and Congress and historical understandings of executive power. Trump has the right to reverse the national monuments created by previous presidents without an act of Congress, but by the same token, the Constitution creates a check by allowing future presidents to reverse Trump too.

In late April, Trump announced a plan to reconsider the size of recently designated national monuments, principally those that withdrew vast amounts of land in the West and in the oceans near Hawaii and New England from some forms of economic development. His orders sparked a firestorm of criticism from environmentalists and sympathetic public officials, who have argued in these pages that Trump cannot undo a national monument once declared by a past president.

The power to create national monuments derives from the Antiquities Act of 1906. It’s a broad presidential power, although monuments must be limited to the smallest area necessary to preserve landmarks and other objects of interest. Like many federal laws, the Antiquities Act delegates authority to the executive branch but does not address how to undo the use of the power. Those who defend permanent, unchangeable national monuments argue that the act’s silence on reversal means reversal is impossible. But there is no reason to believe that the Antiquities Act can uniquely evade the fundamental principles that apply throughout our government and laws.

Almost every grant of power, by Constitution or statute, implicitly also includes the power of reversal. Congress has no express authority in the Constitution to repeal a law, but it does so by passing new laws. The Supreme Court doesn’t have express authority to overrule a past precedent, but it does so in a later decision. As the federal courts have recognized, the president can fire Cabinet officers or abrogate treaties (both of which require Senate advice and consent), even though the Constitution doesn’t mention it. No Congress, Supreme Court or president can bind their successors from using their branch’s constitutional powers.

The courts have applied the same legal principle of reversal when Congress delegates lawmaking power to the executive branch, as in the Antiquities Act. For example, agencies granted authority to issue regulations also can revoke or modify them, and presidents often repeal executive orders, many of which are based on statutory powers. The courts have never held that the underlying statutory authority once used cannot be revoked.

Indeed, those who claim that the Antiquities Act does not grant a reversal power cannot find a single case in another area of federal law that supports that contention. To override the norm, legislators have to clearly limit reversal powers in the original law; the plain text of the Antiquities Act includes no such limits.

Those who consider monument proclamations sacrosanct place most of their hopes in a cursory legal opinion issued by U.S. Atty. Gen. Homer Cummings in 1938. No court has ever approved of the Cummings opinion. Our research explains the many holes in its reasoning, including Cummings’ mistaken reliance on an 1862 attorney general opinion that interpreted a different law, with utterly different facts, and, in any case, reached a conclusion contrary to Cummings’ position.

In a letter to the Interior Department, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra asserts that Trump cannot legally revoke or reduce six national monuments in California. Besides his reliance on Cummings’ flawed opinion, Becerra’s statutory citations don’t help his case. He primarily cites ambiguous comments made in House committee deliberations related to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. But that is a separate statute, on a different subject, that did not alter the text or plain meaning of the Antiquities Act. If that’s the best that California officials have on their side in this debate, they should lose.

Californians and others who want to maintain national monuments without change should focus on the merits of the designations rather than magical legal thinking. No president is likely to significantly disturb a national monument that enjoys strong local support. The public comment period for land-based monuments, including all those in California identified for review, is open until July 10. Comments on marine monuments under review are due by July 26.

Prior presidents acted unilaterally to create or vastly expand several national monuments. It’s simply unrealistic to pretend that acts created by unilateral presidential decrees cannot be undone in the same manner.

Todd Gaziano is the executive director of the Pacific Legal Foundation’s D.C. Center and its senior fellow in constitutional law. John Yoo is a law professor at UC Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. They are the authors of an AEI paper on national monuments.

June 21, 2017

Colorado’s runoff has peaked

Lake Powell 65 percent full, but much of it going to Mead


Lake Powell

By Gary Harmon
The Daily Sentinel


The runoff of 2017 is over and officials expect Lake Powell to rise to 65 percent full, but that relatively high level won’t last long as the inflow into the reservoir will be sent downstream to Lake Mead and Mexico.

In all, Lake Powell is to release just under 9 million acre-feet of water downstream this year, or 7.5 million acre-feet to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River compact, and 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico under a 1944 treaty.

Lake Powell functions as a savings account for the Upper Colorado River Basin states, which are required under the compact to release 7.5 million acre-feet per year, based on a rolling 10-year average, from Powell.

Lake Powell can contain just over 24 million acre-feet of water.

The high-runoff year ultimately won’t buy much insurance for the upper basin states, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“It won’t make things worse,” Treese said. “We will continue to bump along about the 50 percent level” in Lake Powell.

While 9 million acre-feet amounts to a third of the capacity of Lake Powell, water continues to flow into the reservoir throughout the year, though well short of runoff levels.

The Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Powell so as to keep enough pressure to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam. The dam’s eight turbines can produce up to 1,320 megawatts of electricity and the dam supplies power to 5.8 million customers.

The spring’s high runoff isn’t operationally significant, James Eklund, the former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who headed development of the Colorado water plan, said in an email.

From a strategic perspective, however, “it underscores that even in what seemed like a banner water year, we’re still a long way from recovery from the last 16-year dry spell” and highlights the need to keep enough water in Powell high enough to generate electricity, Eklund said.

Even though the runoff has peaked, people looking to enjoy the water should take care, said Andy Martsolf, emergency services director for Mesa County.

“The water in the Colorado is moving fast and it is cold,” Martsolf said. “People recreating on the river should always use a personal flotation device, multichamber inflatables, and tell someone who is not in their party where they are going and when to expect their return.”

June 13, 2017

Mitchell Caverns’ long-awaited reopening postponed

Mitchell Caverns’ reopening has been delayed until October in the eastern Mojave Desert’s Providence Mountains. State park officials had hoped to reopen the remote Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, home to the caverns, in May or June. (COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS)

By Suzanne Hurt
The Press-Enterprise


Mitchell Caverns’ reopening has been delayed until October due to an ailing septic tank and trail work that’s on hold until summer’s over in the eastern Mojave Desert’s Providence Mountains.

State park officials had hoped to reopen the remote Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, home to the caverns, in May or June.

Spring and fall are high season for the park east of Barstow, which has been closed since January 2011, mainly over water issues.

Now the septic tank serving the visitor center and staff housing, which is getting plugged up due to broken ballasts, must be replaced. An environmental review must be completed and more funding won’t come until the new fiscal year starts July 1, said Russ Dingman, acting superintendent of the state parks’ Tehachapi District.

After temperatures get cooler in September, trail crews will return to reinforce the main trail to the caves and align it with natural topography for better water and erosion control. The cost of the work isn’t known yet.

The caverns are one of two public “show caves” in Southern California and the state park system’s only limestone caves.

June 6, 2017

How Pappy & Harriet's Went From Dive Bar to a Music Destination

Pappy & Harriet's (Courtesy Pappy & Harriet's)

BY GWYNEDD STUART
LA Weekly


During its heyday as a film and TV set — from the late 1940s to the late '50s, roughly — Pioneertown was the backdrop for any number of acts of generic Wild West mayhem. Set against convincing façades of a livery stable, feed store, bank and saloon, cowboys and caballeros with bronzed skin and bleached-white teeth traded choreographed blows and blasts from pistols loaded with blanks to sell a fantasy of lawlessness to little boys lying on their bellies in front of black-and-white TV sets. The good guys usually won, and bad guys suffered fates too terrible to show onscreen, but chaos and coyotes still lurked just around the corner.

On a recent spring evening — April 20, incidentally — some of the fledgling outlaws standing in line outside the now-legendary Pioneertown music venue Pappy & Harriet's are attempting to shift the balance of good and evil yet again. OK, that's an overstatement, but several concertgoers among the 900 or so who've shown up to see Baltimore synth-pop trio Future Islands have gone inside the restaurant, purchased alcoholic beverages and brought the drinks outside to sip while waiting for the gate to the outdoor stage to open. (Among other crimes committed: a preponderance of very on-the-nose Coachella fashion and waaaay too many short shorts for a chilly night.) But in the desert, order is tenuous, and a security guard makes his way down the line confiscating the beverages. It wouldn't be a Wild West town without a sheriff.

Still, Robyn Celia, who's co-owned Pappy & Harriet's since 2003, likes to think that she and business partner Linda Krantz have preserved a sort of "lawlessness" that can't be found at other music venues, a remnant not only of the town's days as a Western movie set but from the decades after that, when the bar-restaurant was a biker hangout for actual Outlaws. She thinks it's part of what draws people to the middle of nowhere to see bands they probably could've just seen in L.A. "I went to a show at a House of Blues somewhere," Celia says, lamenting the hokey, controlled, carefully crafted environment. "I understand now."

A former saloon façade and a functioning cantina since the early 1970s, Pappy & Harriet's opened in 1982 serving up Tex-Mex and live country music. After Pappy's death in 1994, the restaurant fell on hard times and changed hands at least once before Celia and Krantz came along and bought the business on credit cards. Krantz had made a film about Pioneertown in the '90s, and she spread the gospel of the slightly bizarre little village to friends in New York City. They began an annual ritual of visiting for New Year's Eve, and one year discovered the place had changed, "closing at 9, gingham tablecloths," Celia recalls. "It was definitely like they were trying to reach an older clientele." Shortly thereafter, they bought the place and headed West "before all the shit hit the fan with the world," she says, referring to the financial collapse.

You could say that Pappy & Harriet's has become a destination despite the fact that it's situated in a sort of no man's land northwest of the tiny town of Yucca Valley, with no cellphone service in the middle of the desert. Really, it's more likely that it's become a destination because of those things, for bands — Lucinda Williams, Paul McCartney, Rufus Wainwright — and fans alike.

There's also Celia's pragmatic approach to dealing with the talent: "If they want 10 bottles of Patron, just fucking give it to them. They're going to tell people how much they liked it here." Same goes for patrons — the tequila isn't free, but the drinks are big and affordable for a live music venue. And people seem to like the food. We showed up about an hour and a half before the bands went on and were basically told we wouldn't be getting a table that night.

Based on the rather large crowd of bohemian millennial types who frequently descend on Pioneertown, thanks to Pappy & Harriet's, you could be justified in wondering: Is it going to get too "cool" to be cool anymore? Will this quaint town of ranches and adobe casitas soon be overrun with hipsters who've glorified rural life? Celia doesn't think that's likely. "It's still the desert," she says. "You have to handle your shit out here."

Even on a clear spring night, when the sky looks like a black sheet blasted with buckshot, it gets very dark in Pioneertown. Yes, it's in the middle of the desert, so no shit. But it's a sort of darkness that you can't really reckon with until you're attempting to navigate haphazardly laid-out dirt roads back to your Airbnb after a show at Pappy & Harriet's. A cellphone will get you only so far in Pioneertown, but at least the flashlight feature will guide you to bed before the coyotes can drag you off into the hills. It's the desert, and you have to handle your shit.

May 18, 2017

Capturing the Mojave Desert

Painters, Photographers, Poets, and More Invited to Artist-in-Residence Program

A spring scene from the Mojave National Preserve (Matt Kettmann)

by MATT KETTMANN
Santa Barbara Independent


There are plenty of acute instances of beauty and wonder to be found in the Mojave National Preserve: obscure, Seussian flowers emerging from lonely, hardscrabble succulents; chaotic rock art surrounding mysteriously deep watering holes; abandoned mines littered with forgotten tools and shiny tailings; sharp mountains jutting violently from the subtly rolling flatlands; columns of sunlight piercing through the crusted earth to illuminate the circular walls of an underground lava tube. But the overall impression that this desert expanse just west of the California-Nevada border gives is of a collective vastness: From proper vantage points, the landscape simply goes on forever, making one feel materially insignificant and yet cosmically connected at the same time.

How to convey as much in art, photography, and poetry is the charge of the Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation, which hosts work by the latest artist every 60 days in the Desert Light Gallery inside the Kelso Depot visitor center. The selected artists stay in the adjacent town of Baker, but by later this summer, the foundation hopes to have rooms at the centrally located Ox Ranch ready for use.

“The major advantage is that it’s in the middle of the preserve, so they don’t waste a lot of windshield time driving from Baker to wherever they are going to photograph or paint,” said Foundation President Bob Killen. “If you’re staying at the Ox, you are about 20 miles from anything you’ll want to do.”

Artists typically stay in the Mojave Preserve — which is the National Park Service’s newest preserve, and the third largest Service property in the lower 48 — for two to four weeks and then have about a year to complete their project. Once ready, it hangs in the gallery, where pieces are sold (there as well as online) with a 50-50 split to the artist and foundation.

The foundation has hosted numerous photographers, painters, and poets, as well as the occasional sculptor and even basket weavers. “We primarily focus on the art that’s going to create an educational link with the public and the preserve,” said Killen. “We want people to be able to see and interpret the desert in a much higher order through the eyes of the artist.”

Himself an accomplished photographer, Killen also owns National Park Photography Expeditions, which runs five-day masterclasses to the Mojave and seven other national parks/preserves for aspiring photographers. “They stay in the field with me for five days learning advanced landscape photography,” said Killen, who usually takes six to eight students and donates some proceeds to help support the artist-in-residence program.

May 16, 2017

Nevada rancher, water authority opponent Dean Baker dead at 77

Rancher Dean Baker talks strategy with fellow Snake Valley residents at a 2009 meeting in advance of a hearing on plans to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

By Henry Brean
Las Vegas Review-Journal


Dean Baker was a rancher, a pilot and a businessman, but most people knew him as a thorn in the side of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
The dogged opponent of the authority’s plans to siphon water from across eastern Nevada died Saturday at a St. George, Utah, hospital from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 77.

“He was driving around the ranch on dirt roads a week before he died,” said Baker’s oldest son, Dave. “It meant everything to him.”

Baker was born Dec. 19, 1939, in Delta, Utah, where he learned to farm, ranch and fly an airplane solo by the age of 16.
In 1959, he moved to Snake Valley, on the Nevada-Utah border 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas, to help run a ranch his father had acquired there a few years earlier.

The town they settled in was also called Baker, but that was just a coincidence.

Dave Baker said his dad never finished high school but still earned a business degree from the University of Utah.
“He was a good businessman, and he recognized opportunity,” Dave Baker said.

Under Dean Baker’s direction, his son said, their cattle and alfalfa operation more than doubled in size over the past 20 years, consolidating what used to be a dozen separate ranches into a single, family-owned corporation operating on more than 12,000 acres on both sides of the state line.

Fighting MX missiles

Baker’s first taste of activism came during the Carter administration, when the federal government floated plans for a system of mobile nuclear missiles mounted on railroad tracks to be laid across 35,000 square miles of Nevada and Utah.

Dave Baker said the MX missile project would have “swallowed up a bunch of our winter range,” so his dad joined the brief, successful campaign against it.

A decade later, Baker found himself in another David-and-Goliath fight when Las Vegas water officials launched a sweeping grab for unappropriated groundwater across rural Nevada, including Snake Valley.

Baker spent the better part of the next 20 years commenting at meetings, writing letters, serving on committees and joining lawsuits in hopes of blocking the water authority’s still-pending, multibillion-dollar pipeline proposal. The effort required countless trips — often in his own airplane — to Las Vegas and Carson City, where he registered as a legislative lobbyist so he could plead his case directly to lawmakers.

In the process, he became the unofficial spokesman for the opposition. Reporters from across the country and around the globe painted him as a folk hero — the humble rancher fighting to protect his spread from the insatiable thirst of Las Vegas. And Baker was happy to oblige — anything to spread the word about their struggle.

“It’s just because I’m a bullheaded, opinionated old goat,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2013.

Longtime Nevada activist Abigail Johnson fought alongside Baker against both the MX missiles and the water authority’s pipeline. She later got to know him as a neighbor after she bought a place in Baker.

“He was a very courageous man and a very principled man,” she said.

One of his strengths, Johnson said, was his ability to work with and even befriend people from very different backgrounds, including a few rabid environmentalists who liked to argue with him about livestock grazing on public land. “He started out as a conservative rancher, and he was always a conservative rancher, but he had an open mind and he wasn’t afraid to change,” she said.

Once after a water meeting in Las Vegas, Johnson caught a ride back to Snake Valley in Baker’s plane, which he landed on one of the long dirt roads at the ranch. “He showed me all kinds of things on the way,” she recalled. “He just loved flying. That was just his favorite thing.”

Baker is survived by his wife of 19 years, Barbara; his daughter, Chris Robinson; sons Dave, Craig and Tom; stepsons Gary and Dennis Perea; and 18 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Fredrick and Betty Baker, and his brother, Carl.

Baker was buried Monday in the same cemetery as his parents, about two miles from the ranch in Snake Valley.

His family is planning a public memorial service at the ranch on June 24.

May 5, 2017

Animal Predatory Behavior Decreases Near Desert Wind Turbines, Study Finds

"These findings could be helpful in assisting managers to design future wind energy facilities with species in mind."

Wind turbines overlooking Whitewater Creek and Interstate 10 near Palm Springs, California. (PHOTO: David McNew / Getty Images News / Getty Images)

By Patch CA (Patch Staff)
Patch Banning


PALM SPRINGS, CA – A study conducted at the windmills near Palm Springs showed that predators are less likely to attack prey living near the wind turbines, including desert tortoises that burrow in the Coachella Valley.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey employed motion-activated cameras facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows at the 5.2-square-kilometer wind energy facility.

They found that predators are far more likely to visit the tortoises' burrows near dirt roads and far less likely to visit burrows close to turbines.

The five predator species monitored included bobcats, gray foxes, coyotes, black bears and western spotted skunks, who scientists say were not actively hunting the tortoises but seeking smaller prey that frequently live in desert tortoise burrows.

"These findings could be helpful in assisting managers to design future wind energy facilities with species in mind," said lead author Mickey Agha. "There may be benefits to adding space between turbines and increasing the number of dirt roads, to potentially provide habitat for sensitive terrestrial wildlife."

Scientists behind the study -- which was published in the April issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management -- say the findings show that the design of wind energy infrastructure impacts animal behavior, an area of study rarely touched on.

"There is little information on predator-prey interactions in wind energy landscapes in North America, and this study provides a foundation for learning more," said Jeffrey Lovich, USGS scientist and study co-author.

"Further investigation of causes that underlie road and wind turbine effects, such as ground vibrations, sound emission and traffic volume, could help provide a better understanding of wildlife responses to wind energy development," he said.

April 26, 2017

The Desert Oracle's Ken Layne

Protege of Country Dick Montana and Buddy Blue Seigal

Ken Layne: The desert is very good for revelations.

By Matthew Lickona
San Diego Reader


In 1983, teenaged San Diegan Ken Layne had a revelation in Death Valley. “The teenage boys in my crowd would take whoever’s car that was working that weekend” — often, it was restaurateur Sam Chammas’s VW van — “and head out to Death Valley, Joshua Tree, or Anza-Borrego to free-range wander. No phones, no parents, but we were actually doing pretty wholesome things — hiking and camping.”

The desert is very good for revelations, says Layne. “You can have utter peace and quiet if you need it. It’s a place where you can live a mythic existence if you try — if you go outside and engage. That’s something we almost don’t get anymore. A place of romantic belief.” Think of “Saul on the road to Damascus. You have this blinding light coming down from the heavens; it’s like the Close Encounters poster. He fell to the ground, and he had the typical response that many [UFO] contactees have. His eyes burned, he couldn’t see.”

Layne’s revelation was more mundane, but still personally significant. “I came home and thought, Who knows about this? I went to my high school library and found Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Afterwards, “I thought, I will live in a desert wilderness and be a writer. It took a while, and that’s good. You don’t want to do it when you’re 16, and probably not when you’re 30. But when you’re in your 50s and you’ve been a newspaper reporter and a musician and all these things that require being around a lot of people…”

The musician part was with the Outriders; Layne was mentored by local stalwarts Country Dick Montana and Buddy Blue Seigal. “They weren’t that much older, but they seemed so much wiser. They knew all the stuff. Talking to them was like taking two years of American literature courses.”

The reporter part ranged from Lakeside’s Back Country Trader to Gawker’s political blog Wonkette, which Layne ran from his home in Joshua Tree, eventually bought and later sold. “Breitbart tried to run me out of business. I thought to myself, ‘If you did something people like, think of how that might change the dynamic.’”

Today, Layne is the editor, publisher, writer, designer, and distributor for The Desert Oracle, a black-and-yellow print quarterly with a circulation, six issues in, of 5000. The current issue covers, among other things, car camping in the Castle Mountains, the jackalope, and the alien-conspiracy Krill Papers, which, Layne writes, “have a familiar feel today…because they’ve fed the paranoid mythology that has become modern American culture.”

“Joshua Tree was one of those zeitgeist places I’ve always run to,” says Layne of his belief that a print journal based on his personal interests could thrive in the desert. “I went to Prague in the early ’90s. There were so many people drawn from all over the world — bohemians, artists, the sort who show up in such places throughout time. Also, Coachella added to the interest in high-desert living. And when you do something in a location, you become part of the locale.”

Trump executive order puts Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails national monuments in crosshairs

The Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres that offer a stunning mosaic of rugged mountain ranges, ancient lava flows and spectacular sand dunes. (Photo: Courtesy of Jack Thompson/The Wildlands Conservancy)

Sammy Roth
The Desert Sun


President Donald Trump has called for an unprecedented review of national monuments established by Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, calling into question the future of the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails monuments in the California desert.

Obama designated those monuments last year, thrilling conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts who had long fought for the beloved landscapes to be protected from development. The Sand to Snow National Monument stretches from the desert floor near Palm Springs to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio, comprising 154,000 acres. The Mojave Trails monument is larger, spanning 1.6 million acres and surrounding historic Route 66, between Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park.

Trump's executive order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all monuments designated by presidents since 1996. Zinke said the review would be limited to monuments larger than 100,000 acres, but the text of the executive order creates an exception for cases "where the (Interior) Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach." That broad loophole means the California desert's 21,000-acre Castle Mountains monument — designated by Obama at the same time as Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails — may also be vulnerable.

Republican politicians railed against Obama's liberal use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to set aside public lands and waters for conservation. Obama expanded or designated new monuments 34 times, more than any other president, protecting more than 5.7 million acres of land and nearly 550 million acres of water, most of it surrounding Hawaii and other Pacific Ocean islands, according to a Desert Sun tally.

In a signing ceremony Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said no decisions have been made about specific monuments, emphasizing that Trump's executive order "does not remove any monuments... and does not weaken any environmental protections on any public lands." But Trump made clear he plans to shrink or eliminate some monuments. Speaking after Zinke, Trump slammed his predecessor for using the Antiquities Act so often, saying, "it’s time we ended this abusive practice."

"I've spoken with many state and local leaders… who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab, and it's gotten worse and worse and worse," Trump said. "And now we're going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened."

It's far from clear Trump can eliminate monuments designated by a previous president. While Congress can abolish a national monument, the Antiquities Act doesn't explicitly give the president the authority to do so, and no president has ever tried.

But several presidents have reduced the size of national monuments, according to the Congressional Research Service. President John F. Kennedy, for instance, removed nearly 4,000 acres from the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

Pumping groundwater near Mojave Trails

In the California desert, public-lands advocates were dismayed by Trump's order.

David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, said he thinks the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails national monuments have enough local, bipartisan support that the Trump administration won't target them for elimination. But he's worried about possible carve-outs for mining, energy development and other industrial activities.

"Someone donates to a congressman, and all of a sudden a mining company from Canada, or Mitsubishi from Japan, trumps the American people," Myers said. "The people love these monuments, and they will show up and turn out to protect them."

Some conservationists fear Trump's executive order will be used to help Cadiz Inc., which wants to pump groundwater from a desert aquifer next to Mojave Trails and sell the water to Southern California cities. Frazier Haney, conservation director at Mojave Desert Land Trust, said federal officials could rewrite Obama's 2016 proclamation establishing the monument to make it easier for the groundwater project to go forward.

Obama’s proclamation referred to "the area’s scarce springs and riparian areas" as one of the reasons for designating the Mojave Trails monument, noting that underground aquifers "feed springs and seeps that are important for sensitive ecosystems and wildlife." If that language is scrapped, Haney said, it would remove a potential legal obstacle to Cadiz pumping groundwater just outside the national monument.

Cadiz doesn't think the monument affects its project and hasn't advocated for any changes to the monument designation, spokesperson Courtney Degener said.

"Monuments cannot and do not impact private property or valid existing rights, including Cadiz’s water rights," she said.

Jim Conkle, a Route 66 historian, led the charge to create the Mother Road National Monument, which eventually became Mojave Trails. He leads tours of the historic highway — but it's really the untouched desert surrounding the roads that inspires him.

"Whenever I go into the Mojave Desert, I feel the weight of the world is off of me, and I'm in this gorgeous place that was made and is still the same," Conkle said. "You're actually seeing what the indigenous people of 1,000 years ago saw. That landscape has not changed, and I don’t want it to change."

A Coachella Valley 'gateway' to Sand to Snow

Conservationists spent years working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to create the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails national monuments, in part to protect those areas from the boom in solar and wind development that started after Obama took office in 2009. But legislation introduced by Feinstein repeatedly failed to gain enough support, as did bills written by Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, which would have established the Sand to Snow monument and offered a lesser level of protection to the Mojave Trails.

With little chance of movement in Congress, Feinstein asked Obama to designate the monuments. He did so in February 2016, emphasizing that the monuments would help fortify the desert against the impacts of climate change by connecting millions of acres of already-protected lands, creating corridors through which at-risk species like bighorn sheep can travel as some areas become less habitable due to rising temperatures.

The Sand to Snow designation was relatively noncontroversial, since most of the monument was already congressionally designated wilderness. Sand to Snow helps link the San Bernardino National Forest, the San Jacinto Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park, connecting a diverse array of ecosystems and protecting a wildlife corridor traversed by mountain lions, bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, among other species. The monument also includes 30 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

Leaders of Desert Hot Springs, the Coachella Valley's northwestern-most city, see Sand to Snow as a potential economic boon. The City Council passed a resolution last year declaring its intent to be a "gateway community" for the national monument.

"When President Obama signed the Sand to Snow act, it really opened up opportunities for us to capture a portion of those two million visitors to Joshua Tree (National Park) every year, to stop here in Desert Hot Springs and use us a a gateway to Sand to Snow," the city's mayor, Scott Matas, said in an interview Wednesday, after Trump signed his executive order. "It is an important piece of our tourism plan for the future."

Fighting over off-roading, rockhounding at Mojave Trails

Mojave Trails was more controversial. Miners, hunters, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and collectors of rocks and minerals opposed a presidential monument designation, fearing they would be shut out from enjoying the land. They preferred legislation, through which Congress could guarantee their favorite pastimes would continue to be allowed.

During an event hosted by Feinstein at the Whitewater Preserve in late 2015, John Sobel — chief of staff to Rep. Cook, who had his own desert lands legislation — said monuments designated using the Antiquities Act would be "second-rate monuments, because they lack the adequate support of locals and of Congress."

But now that the desert national monuments are in place, even some of those critics say Trump should leave them alone.

Randy Banis, a representative of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, worked with Feinstein on her legislation. He opposed Obama's designation of the Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails monuments, but he doesn't think Trump should reverse that decision.

"I'm generally not one for going backward. I don't think it’s productive," Banis said.

Banis is working with other stakeholders to make sure the Mojave Trails monument stays open to recreational activity. As chair of the California Desert District Advisory Council — which gives input to the federal Bureau of Land Management — Banis is forming a group to advise BLM specifically on the management of Mojave Trails.

As an off-roader, Banis often explores the Mojave Trails area in his safari-style 1994 Land Rover Defender, driving east from the Cady Mountains toward Needles, along the Colorado River. While he's worried the monument's 1,400 miles of off-highway vehicle roads will be closed, he's optimistic federal officials will take local input into account.

"We can do that with the tools that we have on the table now," he said.

Two dozen monuments threatened by Trump's order

Trump said a main reason for his executive order is to re-examine monuments that were designated without sufficient local input, or over the objections of communities. But in the California desert, that rationale doesn't make much sense, monument supporters say. While Republican politicians and other local stakeholders criticized Obama's executive action, Obama only designated the monuments after six years of extensive public conversation, including three attempts by Feinstein to pass bills in Congress.

Conkle, the Route 66 historian, said it's possible other monuments were rammed through without public input — but not the one he worked so hard to create.

"We worked on it for 18 years, covered all our bases, included everybody we could. Everybody had a chance to come to the table and to be recognized," he said. If the Trump administration tries to revoke the Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow monument designations, he added, "They're going to have a battle on their hands."

The White House said Trump's executive order covered two dozen national monuments larger than 100,000 acres, including several in California. Besides Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails, the Interior Department will review California's Giant Sequoia and Carrizo Plain national monuments, which were established by Clinton, and the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, which was designated by Obama. A spokesperson for Zinke said the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside Los Angeles, which Obama designated in 2014, may also be reviewed. Unlike all the other 100,000-acre monuments designated or expanded since 1996, it's managed by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the Department of Agriculture, rather than Interior.

The Trump administration reached back to 1996 in order to capture the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, which Clinton created over strong objections from Utah's congressional representatives. Twenty years later, another monument designation angered Utah lawmakers even more: A few weeks before leaving office, Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument, protecting 1.35 million acres of sacred tribal lands in southeastern Utah. The area is rich with petroglyphs, remnants of ancient dwellings and other archaeological artifacts, but it's been plagued by looting.

Native American tribal leaders and conservationists cheered Obama's decision. But state lawmakers and some rural Utahns cried foul, saying a presidential designation would unduly restrict oil and gas development, recreation and other activities.

Trump's executive order calls for Zinke to bring him a report on national monuments within 120 days, but asks for an interim report on Bears Ears specifically within 45 days.

Outdoor recreation industry fights back

Some of the biggest supporters of Bears Ears and other monuments have been outdoor recreation companies like REI, Patagonia and The North Face, which see public lands as good for business. The Outdoor Industry Association released a report Tuesday estimating outdoor recreation to be a $887-billion business. The Interior Department, meanwhile, has estimated the lands under its management hosted 443 million visitors in 2015, supporting $45 billion in economic output and nearly 400,000 jobs.

A few months ago, the outdoor industry pulled its twice-yearly trade show from Salt Lake City after two decades in Utah, in response to a push by state lawmakers to rescind the Bears Ears designation. In a blog post Tuesday, after news broke of Trump's executive order, REI chief executive Jerry Stritzke vowed to fight for America's public lands.

"We believe there is a compelling case to maintain the integrity of our existing national monuments," he wrote. "Our 16 million members can be assured that we believe — as Teddy Roosevelt said — our public lands should be left stronger and healthier for future generations."

April 14, 2017

Marines move imperiled desert tortoises out of harm’s way

Biologists work with the USMC, BLM, the California and US Fish & Wildlife Services to relocate about 1,100 to 1,500 Desert Tortoises from the Bessemer Mine area of Johnson Valley in Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Wednesday. PHOTO BY ERIC REED

By David Danelski
The Press-Enterprise


Wildlife biologist Scott Welch looked out over the Mojave Desert and readied for action when he heard a distant helicopter flying in.

Just seconds after the aircraft landed, he and two others began loading it with plastic storage bins containing desert tortoises captured at an expansion area of the U.S. Marines Corps training base at Twentynine Palms.

They carefully packed 26 of the imperiled reptiles — one or two per bin — onto cargo carriers on the helicopter that looked like oversized saddlebags.

And within minutes, the tortoises were flying toward a safer haven of the recently created Mojave Trails National Monument — about 25 miles away from the crushing treads of tanks, the boots of soldiers and the blasts of bombs.

Operation Desert Tortoise was in its fifth day. As of Wednesday morning, 266 of the animals had been moved out of the Johnson Valley, about 30 miles northwest of Yucca Valley.

Before the end of the month, the Marines, working with about 125 wildlife biologists expect to have moved 1,156 tortoises, with a focus on clearing transportation corridors and other areas expected to be most disturbed by live-ammunition training missions.

It’s part of a multi-year, $50 million-plus tortoise relocation and study program at the base that was OK’d by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following a 2013 vote by Congress to add about 88,000 acres in Johnson Valley to the combat center.

For the Marines, the expansion will allow them to hold longer and more-involved live-ammunition desert training missions to prepare Marines to intervene in global hot spots, such as the Middle East, should it be necessary. Such training is expected to start this summer.

For the tortoise, a species listed as threatened with extinction, it means the loss of more than a hundred square miles of quality habitat, as evidenced this year by robust blooms of yellow desert dandelions and other annual plants that are their primary food source.

The resources of the U.S. Defense Department were put to work to minimize harm to the tortoises, said Brian Henen, an ecologist for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

Analysis and field work for the move began more than two years ago. Scores of specially trained biologists have methodically walked the valley and fitted each tortoise they found with radio transmitters, so the animals could be gathered for this month’s move. It’s the largest tortoise move yet in the Mojave Desert.

The five areas of public land around the base that are receiving the animals were carefully chosen for their quality habitat and their distances from human habitation, Henen said.

Tortoises that lived near each other are being released in similar proximity in the recipient areas to preserve their social structure.

“We are moving them in groups. We are trying to sustain the similarity and the structure of their origin,” said Henen, standing by a makeshift medical checkup station for the tortoises.

There, Peter Praschag, a world-renowned tortoise and turtle expert from Austria, was working with veterinarian Shannon DiRuzzo to screen tortoises for signs of disease and other health issues.

A large male dubbed MC-2013 appeared frightened by the checkup and voided the water stored in his bladder, called a coelomic cavity. This was a serious matter, because a tortoise may get only one or two chances a year to get a good drink of water.

So Praschag used a syringe to carefully refill the animal’s coelomic cavity with a saline solution of water.

The work of the biologists won’t be finished until long after the last load of tortoises are flown out this month. Henen explained that the biologists will return frequently during the next four years to search for any reptiles that may have been left behind. They expect to move another 300 tortoises during that time.

The plans also include tracking and studying the relocated tortoises, as well as those already in the recipient area, for as long as 30 years. For this research, three groups of 225 tortoises — relocated ones, those already there and an unaffected control group — will be fitted with transmitters to track their movements and survival rates.

Biologists hope that the knowledge gained from this research will help the species recover.

But the loss of more than 100 square miles of prime habitat is still harmful to the tortoises, which has faced declines since the 1970s, prompting its 1990 listing under the Endangered Species Act, said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

“It is going to be a big hit on the species,” she said.

She said it is not known if the public property outside the base will have enough food and other resources for both residents and newcomers to survive, and that wildlife biologists don’t know for sure why tortoises numbers have dropped in those areas.

She’s also worried that the tortoises may try to find their way back to their birthplaces in the base expansion areas.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined in January that moving the tortoises from the Johnson Valley won’t jeopardize the survival of the species.

Scott Hoffman, who was observing the relocation effort for the FWS, said the species may benefit in the long run.

“Yes, we are losing habitat. But are we are using the relocated tortoises to supplement the populations in the critical habitat areas,” said Hoffman, referring to some of the recipient areas.

April 13, 2017

Once-abandoned Searchlight subdivision may soon be buzzing with drones

Aerial view of Searchlight airport on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Jonathan Daniels, founder of Praxis Aerospace Concepts International, plans to open a drone testing site at the airpark. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

By Eli Segall
Las Vegas Review-Journal


SEARCHLIGHT — The once-abandoned subdivision off the side of U.S. Highway 95 is tucked out of view, but there isn’t much to see anyway — just some house-less streets next to a mile-long airstrip.

But in time, if Jonathan Daniels has his way, the property will be buzzing with drones.

Daniels, founder of Henderson-based Praxis Aerospace Concepts International, recently leased about an acre of land at the Searchlight Airpark for his drone-testing business.

He plans to start working from temporary trailers — the site has water and power hook-ups — by mid-May and eventually build a permanent facility. As part of his agreement with the property owner, Daniels also will manage the tower-less airport.

At first glance, Searchlight seems an unlikely place for aviation technology. It’s a pint-sized town some 60 miles south of Las Vegas with abandoned mines and mobile homes and rarely gets new bursts of commerce.

But the area has open airspace for drone testing, Daniels said, unlike the more-restricted Las Vegas Valley, as well as a paved airstrip next to paved streets with utility service. His goal is to make the airpark a launch point to fly back and forth from a Boulder City droneport — test flights that could open drones to a range of commercial uses, he said.

Government officials and industry executives are trying to make Nevada a major hub of drone development and testing. It’s too early to say whether Daniels’ arrival in Searchlight will spark a big inflow of other unmanned-aircraft businesses, but he would at least bring some life to a boom-era real estate project that crashed with the economy and looks like a ghost town.

“If I could have designed a turn-key, instant airport for unmanned aircraft, it would look just like that,” he said.

‘The golden ticket’

Daniels, a 45-year-old former Army helicopter pilot and infantryman, founded Praxis in 2011. The company mostly provides testing, training and other services for owners and operators of drones and other robotics.

He also is part of the group that plans to develop and operate the Eldorado Droneport in Boulder City, a 50-acre property designed to include a 15,000-square-foot terminal building and 860,000 square feet of warehouse, hangar, training, office and research and development space.

His goal is to have people flying drones from Searchlight to Eldorado and back, a roughly 35-mile trip each way.

Drone operators typically can fly only within their line of sight, but Daniels said he wants authorization to let people fly back and forth without needing to drive alongside the aircraft.

He said he stumbled across the Searchlight Airpark when his group was looking for places to expand beyond Boulder City. As Daniels sees it, being able to link the two is “a sheer serendipitous event.”

If drone operators can show the Federal Aviation Administration that they can fly longer distances without visual line of sight, he figures it could help them secure approvals for such commercial uses as parcel delivery or inspections of pipelines, railroads, power plants, farms and forest fires.

“The golden ticket to get there is being able to prove the technology to the FAA,” he said.

Boom, bust, then drones

Daniels contacted airpark owner Bill Turnbull of Seattle and pitched him on the proposed use. Turnbull, whose company RC Aerodyne sells remote-controlled helicopters and airplanes, said he hasn’t determined what to do with the rest of his roughly 40-acre spread.

Located at the south edge of Searchlight, the airpark was designed to have dozens of houses and aircraft hangars, a community where people could fly in and out as they pleased, similar to the tiny town of Cal-Nev-Ari about 10 miles south.

The developers, who teamed up in 2004 during the housing bubble, built roads and installed street signs, power boxes and fire hydrants. But by 2010, after the economy crashed, one partner had sued the other, and by 2011 the airstrip was “in disrepair and deteriorating” because the developers had defaulted on their loan, county documents say.

Lenders foreclosed on the project site in 2011. Turnbull and his wife, Joan, bought it in 2015 for $400,000. Their holdings include a portion of the airstrip, the rest of which is owned by the federal government.

Asked if he could design the airpark to his liking, Daniels said he would want traditional airport facilities such as hangars, flight training and fuel service, with a cluster of companies that work in small-aircraft aviation.

“That’s important for an airport,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s just a chunk of dirt.”

April 4, 2017

Feinstein fumes as Trump team waives environmental review for Mojave water project

Scott Slater, CEO of the Cadiz water project, stands near a basin at the project site near Needles, California, Slater and Cadiz have recently gotten a big boost by a Trump administration decision that relieves the project of a federal environmental review requirement. (Noaki Schwartz AP)

BY STUART LEAVENWORTH
Sacramento Bee


WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration has handed a big boost to a private water venture in Southern California, angering California’s senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who said the decision could “destroy pristine public land” in the Mojave Desert.

In a little-noticed memorandum issued last month, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management effectively relieved the Cadiz water project of the requirement to undergo a federal environmental review, which the company had sought to avoid. The decision greatly boosts the prospects for Cadiz, which wants to tap water from under the Mojave and sell it to thirsty water districts in Southern California.

“The detrimental impact this project would have on the California desert is irreversible,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Rather than allow a proper environmental review, the Trump administration wants to open the door for a private company to exploit a natural desert aquifer and destroy pristine public land purely for profit.”

Cadiz responded that its project has undergone multiple environmental reviews, including a California Environmental Quality Act review that survived court challenges.

Feinstein’s “opposition has done a disservice to thousands of Californians who will benefit from this public-private partnership – a project which will deliver new, reliable water without any adverse environmental impacts,” Cadiz CEO Scott Slater said in a statement.

As noted in a Feb. 8 story by McClatchy, Cadiz has seen its fortunes rise since Trump was elected. Its stock price has more than doubled since Trump’s victory, apparently because investors believe the venture will fare better now than it did when Barack Obama was in office. Slater, the company’s CEO, is a water lawyer affiliated with the Denver-based firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, an influential lobbying force in Washington.

One remaining hurdle for Cadiz is building a 43-mile pipeline necessary for shipping its water to potential customers. Prior to 2015, Cadiz assumed it could use an existing railroad right-of-way for the pipeline and do so without a costly and time-consuming federal review. Yet two years ago, the California office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management reversed a 2009 determination and required Cadiz to seek a permit to build the pipeline.

Over the last two years, Cadiz has been lobbying Congress to overturn the BLM decision and pass legislation that would relieve it and other companies of permitting requirements on railroad right of ways. On March 1, two California lawmakers – Democrat Tony Cardenas and Republican Tom McClintock – joined 16 other congressional representatives in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him to rescind the BLM decision and relieve the project of a federal review.

In a March 29 memorandum, Zinke’s Interior Department did just that, rescinding the 2015 decision signed by Timothy Spisak, acting assistant director for BLM’s Division of Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management.

Feinstein is the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, which established the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve. She has long opposed Cadiz, which has struggled for 15 years to get traction on different versions of its water project.

Feinstein points to analyses by the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey to argue that Cadiz would withdraw more water – 50,000 acre feet each year – than nature could provide to recharge the desert aquifer.

“The Trump administration has once again put corporate profits ahead of the public’s interest,” Feinstein said in her statement. “In a blatant attempt to muscle the Cadiz water project through, the administration is completely undermining federal oversight of railroad rights-of-way.”

Cadiz rejects those claims, asserting that more recent analyzes have found that the company’s proposed groundwater withdrawals pose no threat to the desert’s flora and faunta.

“Senator Feinstein regrettably relies on outdated, 17-year old data inconsistent with presently known facts as foundation to oppose a project which will safely and sustainably create new water for 400,000 people, has broad bipartisan community support, will generate 5,900 new jobs, and will drive nearly $1 billion in economic growth,” Slater said late Tuesday.

Feinstein, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has used her position before to block Cadiz and other developments she has deemed detrimental to the Mojave Desert. Whether she can again is not clear, but she pledged Tuesday to “fight this latest effort to push the Cadiz water project through.”

Trump administration boosts huge Mojave Desert water-pumping project

Environmentalists say the Cadiz project would rob the desert of the water that plants and wildlife need to survive.

A pumping station designed to help Cadiz project researchers understand how quickly water seeps into the earth is shown in this June 2015 file photo. (JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF FILE PHOTO)

By DAVID DANELSKI
Riverside Press-Enterprise


The Trump administration has removed a major roadblock to plans by a Santa Monica company to pump ancient groundwater from below the Mojave Desert and sell it to urban areas of Southern California.

The federal Bureau of Land Management has rescinded a 2015 administrative finding that Cadiz, Inc. needed to obtain a federal right of way permit and thus had to complete comprehensive environmental studies before it could build a water pipeline within 43 miles of railroad right of way owned by the Arizona & California Railroad.

The move follows a January decision by the Trump transition team to put Cadiz on a list of priority infrastructure projects, and a state appellate court’s rejection last year of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging the project.

The $225 million Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project still needs approval from the powerful Metropolitan Water District to use the Colorado River Aqueduct to ferry the water to urban Southern California.

Cadiz company officials said in statement that they are pleased with the Trump administration’s decision. The statement said they have always believed “the BLM’s 2015 evaluation was contrary to law and policy.”

In 2008, Cadiz entered into a lease agreement with the railroad company to build a pipeline in between the wells it owns in the Mojave Desert area, west of Needles and south of Interstate 40, to the Colorado River, using the railroad’s right of way over federal land.

From the river area, the water could be ferried to urban Southern California using the aqueduct and reservoir system operated by the Metropolitan Water District.

“Our discussions are continuing about what would be required before they can put water in the Colorado River Aqueduct,” said water district spokesman Bob Muir.

In 2002, the water district’s board voted down an earlier version of the Cadiz project that also needed to use the aqueduct.
The project is staunchly opposed by environmental and desert advocates, who say it would rob the desert of the water that plants and wildlife need to survive.

“Many of the springs and seeps are going to dry up because of groundwater extraction,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

She is particularly concerned that the pumping would harm the Mojave National Preserve and recently created Mojave Trails National Preserve [sic].

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that the new administration was muscling through the project without proper reviews. Feinstein is an ardent desert supporter who authored the California Desert Protection Act that created the preserve and other protections more than 20 years ago.

“The Trump administration wants to open the door for a private company to exploit a natural desert aquifer and destroy pristine public land purely for profit,” her statement said.

“The administration is completely undermining federal oversight of railroad rights-of-way. “

April 3, 2017

Long-Living Tortoises Roam Protected Portion of Mojave Desert

Desert tortoise
By Renee Eng
Spectrum News

CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. — In the Mojave Desert, it’s not uncommon to see rabbits or even rattlesnakes slithering around but one reptile that’s harder to spot is the desert tortoise. But it turns out there are plenty of them in a protected area just an hour north of Palmdale, outside of California City. It’s called the Desert Tortoise Natural Area.

Video

“They are a long-lived species,” explained Jillian Estrada, preserve manager and conservation coordinator for the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee.

“They can live more than 100 years in captivity. We actually see several tortoises out here that were initially tagged in the early 70s as part of a long-term study.”

We spotted one male tortoise that Estrada estimates is at least 40 to 50 years old. Her work with the DTPC focuses on protecting the long-lived reptile in the natural area.

“It’s about 39.5 square miles so just over 250,000 acres,” said Estrada.

The property was set up in the 1970s with the Bureau of Land Management and is filled with about 1,000 tortoises.

“They have inhabited the Mojave Desert for millions of years,” described Estrada. “They have been part of this ecosystem. They are specially adapted to survive here.”

But their survival is threatened by human settlements and a raven population that’s grown by 1500 percent over the last 30 years.

“They’re generalists, they’ll eat anything,” said Estrada. “They eat baby tortoises, adult tortoises, baby birds. They will eat lizards.”

A generous appetite threatening baby tortoises that don’t have a fully formed hard shell. It can be easy for predators, especially ravens, to peck through their brittle shells.

“As the mortality rate of juveniles has increased, in large part due to raven predation, we’re not seeing as many females surviving to reproductive age,” said Estrada.

The reproductive age for female tortoises is about 15 years old. However, the raven threat remains as those birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act.

Tortoises that do survive, visitors can spot in the protected area but they cannot touch them. The animal – which is California’s state reptile – is protected at both the state and federal level.

Desert tortoises also hide out for about half the year.

“From late fall to early spring, about five to six months out of the year these guys are hibernating, which for these guys is called brumation,” said Estrada

When they’re not brumating, tortoises will dig shallow burrows, coming out to look for food. Visitors can learn more about their habits at an interpretive kiosk or explore four guided trails that total about 3.5 miles.

There’s also a full-time naturalist on-site from the middle of March to early-June to lead hikes and teach visitors about these gentle creatures.

The Desert Tortoise Natural Area is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to the public.

April 1, 2017

Got $5 million? You could own this sustainable "ghost town" in the Mojave Desert

In the Mojave Desert town of Nipton, the spirit of Western frontier has transformed a forgotten outpost into a self-sustaining ecotopia where the dream lives on.

Historic Hotel Nipton bed and breakfast.
By Dashka Slater
Sunset Magazine


One rule of Nipton living is that you never try to outshout the train. The noise might not seem so deafening closer to civilization, but in this Mojave Desert town, 60 miles south of Las Vegas, silence holds dominion. On my first visit there last year, I sat for a long while and heard nothing at all—no car, no airplane, no leaf blower, no barking dog, not a single human voice. The vast wordless desert surrounded me in all directions.

I’d arrived on a weekday, my rental car pinged by a shower of pebbles and grit as I motored down Nipton Road, which runs between Interstate 15 and the town of Searchlight, Nevada. Nipton was the only stop for miles, its existence marked by a wagon-mounted sandwich board that read:

WELCOME TO NIPTON, CA
B&B HOTEL & ECO-CABIN
STORE RV PARK & CAMPING
RESTAURANT

There were no people roaming the sidewalks because there were no sidewalks—or people, for that matter. A faded settlement of about 20 permanent residents, the town consisted of an assortment of structures, some solid and occupied, some as vacant and splintered as an Old West movie set. Gamers might know Nipton for its cameo in Xbox 360’s Fallout: New Vegas, where it played a post-apocalyptic wasteland infested by giant mantises. But otherwise it was your typical drive-through desert community, fixed at the crossroads of Nowhere Special and Wherever You Were Going. There was one notable exception: Nipton, and everything in it, was for sale.

Two weeks earlier I’d telephoned the town’s owner, an 83-year-old former gold miner named Gerald Freeman, known to everyone as Jerry. He purchased Nipton’s 80 acres in 1984, then spent the next 30 years slowly turning it into a desert ecotopia, where he did everything from plant trees to convert to biofuel to erect an 80-kilowatt solar plant that pumps the town with nearly half its power.

A future buyer with enough cash and the right sense of mission would get the deed to the whole thing—a town, yes, but also Jerry’s vision. “Nipton was where I realized my dream,” he told me. But time was running out. When we spoke, he’d just spent four months in the hospital with congestive heart and renal failures, and he was still getting his nutrition from a feeding tube. He was looking for someone to continue his work. Before we hung up, he invited me to Nipton, to come see his sustainable community up close.

And so there I was, standing outside the whitewashed adobe Hotel Nipton, gazing out at the knuckly brown mountains of the Ivanpah Range and imagining what it would be like to have your own little kingdom. Just as I was turning the thought over in my mind the first freight train came rumbling through, followed by a violent blast of horns and chiming bells. For 20 minutes the cacophony lasted. I wanted to remark on it, but it was too loud, and besides, there was no one around to hear me.

Jerry might own Nipton, but the day-to-day running of the place usually falls to Jim Eslinger. A former long-haul trucker with a drooping mustache and a bowie knife strapped to his hip, Eslinger serves as caretaker and hotelier of Hotel Nipton.

At the height of the season, the hotel receives a steady influx of desert ramblers and foreign tourists anxious for a whiff of the authentic Old West. But the day I was there, the only other visitors were a couple from Las Vegas on an overnight with their teenage niece. Eslinger made a bonfire behind the hotel. The blaze was huge, fed by an enormous tree stump and several sheets of plywood. Sparks flew up in great blizzards, hissing and crackling. The niece, already in her pajamas, watched it for a few minutes, then turned back inside in search of a Wi-Fi signal.

Eslinger had wandered through town eight years ago and never left. “I can’t even imagine living in a city now,” he said. “I’d rather put a bullet in my head and call it a day.” His needs were meager, but when our conversation turned to the latest Powerball mania sweeping the nation, he confessed a longing for the winning ticket.

“I’d buy Nipton,” he said flatly, throwing more combustibles on the fire. “And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I was at the hotel lobby early the next morning, waiting for Jerry to arrive. These days, he and his wife, Roxanne Lang, spend most of their time in their home in Henderson, Nevada, about an hour away, because of his health. I thumbed through the scrapbooks stacked in the sitting area, each one stuffed with yellowed newspaper clippings: “Owner of historic Nipton thinking big.” “Nipton developer has big plans.” “Nipton is his personal fiefdom.”

When Jerry arrived, he was pushing a wheeled walker, and despite obvious signs of declining health, he retained a quality of robust vitality. He wore a leather vest and sunglasses, and he had the same rough-hewn features of the man in the photographs from 30 years ago. He settled into a bentwood chair on the hotel’s wraparound porch and attached an oxygen tube to his nose, so that his breath didn't run out before his thoughts did.

Jerry was born in Hollywood in 1933 to a Russian Jewish family. He graduated from Caltech with a degree in geology and eventually founded a mineral exploration company. After some success, he invested in several gold mines in the Ivanpah Valley, but already he was looking for his next project.

And there was Nipton, just down the road from his mines—and it was for sale. The way Jerry saw it, the tiny outpost had everything you needed to build a self-sustaining community, including access to the sweet waters of the Pleistocene- era lake below its surface. He bought it for $200,000.

At first, Jerry wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the town. He originally envisioned Nipton as an artists’ colony, while his wife pitched the town as a movie location (a few films, including Breakdown, with Kurt Russell, were shot there). Neither idea bore much fruit. But soon the newly remodeled hotel filled up with desert pilgrims, and the trading post—stocked today with guidebooks, dry goods, and local crafts—brought in a steady income. Jerry tried to open a gas station but found it too expensive. He conceived a barbecue business, but that took too much time. So he constructed a greenhouse from which to sell potted poplars and Christmas trees, but there was little demand. Then, certain that a new gold rush was about to strike the Ivanpah Valley, he spent $50,000 building an assay house and convinced a mining company to locate its office there.

But the dream was larger than any one venture. It was as old as the West and as human as the first Homo sapiens who trekked across the Bab el Mandeb strait in search of a new home. It was the dream of starting over and of forging a new and simpler path. “We’ve got all the resources we need to do that,” Jerry told me. “We’ve got the water, we’ve got the sunshine that gives us the power. We have the ability to grow things and to build structures from the natural materials around us.”

“After considering Freeman’s enthusiastic boosterism for a couple of hours, a listener comes away with one of two impressions,” a reporter for the San Bernadino County Sun observed in 1986. “Either this guy has really done his homework and Nipton’s development is a venture of genius. Or, he’s gotten too much sun.”

In 1991, Jerry struck gold once again. The Nipton Trading Post was granted approval to sell tickets for the California State Lottery, making it one of the closest retailers to Las Vegas. (Nevada has no state lottery.) For a while it was the highest-volume lottery-ticket retailer in California, and even today it remains one of Nipton’s most important sources of income.

The previous afternoon I’d strolled into the trading post, where two Buddhist monks in saffron robes were filling out their tickets. One was tall and thick, the other as tiny as a 10-year-old. They didn’t speak much English, so our conversation consisted mostly of the word “lucky,” passed back and forth with various inflections. The big monk had recently won $1,700, which he used to purchase a new iPhone. He held the gadget out for me to admire: “Lucky!”

Once the lotto took off, so too did Jerry’s vision for a sustainable community. First he added a cluster of tented eco-cabins, outfitted with platform beds and wood-burning stoves. Popular with today’s 30-something crowd, the cabins were based on a design by Frank Lloyd Wright. Then, in 2010, he assembled a solar plant, which produces 40 percent of the town’s power. It sits on the outskirts behind a barbed wire fence, its rows of reflecting harvesters mirroring the sun as it moves across the sky.

Jerry’s next step, he said, was to build a hydrogen system in order to store clean energy. He described a visit he recently had from Phil Hawes, the architect for the Biosphere 2 project, who spoke to him about using Nipton as a kind of hands-on sustainable-design classroom for San Francisco Institute of Architecture students. (When I spoke to Hawes, he sounded downright Jerryesque, conjuring visions of Nipton as a self-supporting Eco Village of 2,000 souls.)

But all of these notions depended on the right kind of buyer stepping forward. Someone who saw Nipton as Jerry did. Someone to keep the dream alive. “I’d like to move forward in the direction I’m going,” Jerry said. “That heritage, that legacy, that thrust that began with the first settlers.”

The setting sun had painted the desert pink. The mountains solidified into silhouettes, hoarding the evening shadows. It was time for Jerry to head back to Henderson. Eslinger walked him to his car.

“Thanks for taking care of Nipton,” Jerry said, his eyes misty. Then he and Roxanne drove off toward the train tracks and disappeared over the horizon.

A few months later, I called him at his home in Henderson. He’d come down with a bout of pneumonia not long after my visit, and his voice was faint, with long pauses as he gathered air into his lungs. While his dream buyer had yet to materialize, he had found new operators for the cafe and was hiring a property management company to help run Nipton. A few new residents had moved to town, and he was in talks with someone who wanted to install a solar observatory. He was heartened by these signs of interest, he said, his voice growing stronger. They told him he was on the right path, and he planned to stick around long enough to see where that path would lead. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Life has so many crazy twists and turns, you hardly know what’s going to happen from one day to the next.”

Then last October, I got an email from Roxanne. It was brief without being terse: Jerry had died in her arms a few days earlier. He was buried at a cemetery in the Mojave Desert. The town of Nipton is still for sale.