December 30, 2004

Thieves steal artifacts from Mojave desert museum

Associated Press

Historic Auto club signs stolen from the Daggett Museum.

DAGGETT, Calif. - A break-in discovered Christmas Day has robbed the museum in this Mojave Desert town of its most prized possessions, including antique dolls and Native American artifacts on loan from local families.

The thieves methodically cleared out glass display cases in the Daggett Museum, said curator Beryl Bell, who discovered the burglary when she went to feed her goldfish over the holiday.

"It's really heartbreaking for a small museum," Bell said Wednesday.

The stolen Native American artifacts include a basket appraised at $3,500, a Navajo sash and two large clay Acoma pots that had never been appraised but are very valuable, said Leslie Lloyd, the president of the Daggett Historical Society, which runs the museum.

The thieves also took antique dolls, model trains and other toys, farming implements and examples of rocks from the area, Lloyd said.

The thieves ignored the computers and copy machine in the office of a local government agency that shares the low-slung modular building with the museum, but they stole $2 in coins from Lloyd's desk and a museum donation jar that contained about $10, she said.

Despite the theft of the change, Lloyd believes the burglars were experienced since they left no fingerprints and took steps to disable the alarm system - even though it wasn't operational at the time of the break-in.

"This appeared to be a very neat operation and it appeared they had a shopping list," she said.

The historical society has notified the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association, which plans to post news of the break-in on its Web site and will inform its 250 members by e-mail to look out for the stolen artifacts, said Alice Kaufman, the organization's executive director.

The historical society is offering a $500 reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the theft.

"What we're hoping is that if we raise enough fuss it will at least raise their tail feathers some," said Lloyd, 47, who has lived in the desert town of about 400 people all her life.

The museum, some six miles east of Barstow and about 125 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, plans to increase security to protect what remains of its collection and is only offering tours by appointment.

December 14, 2004

Historian Lowe, member of pioneer family, dies

Celesta Lowe was not only a descendant of a pioneering Nevada family, she lived Nevada history and chronicled what she learned of growing up in Death Valley, Calif., for periodicals including "Desert Magazine" and "Old West."

As a child, Lowe experienced the hardships of being raised in a Western desert town, residing for a while in Shoshone, Calif., in a house made of tent canvas and stacks of sand-filled, five-gallon gasoline cans.

Friends say Lowe often regaled them with tales of the Old West that she heard from her grandparents, pioneers Celestia Adelaide "Ma" Fairbanks and Ralph Jacobus "Dad" Fairbanks, for whom Fairbanks Springs in Nye County is named.

Celesta Adelaide Lowe, the first director of the UNLV library's Special Collections and an inductee into the Nevada Women's History Project Roll of Honor, died Thursday in Henderson. She was 87.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of nearly 70 years will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Bunkers Mortuary.

"What Celesta knew was very broad and deep, and she used that information to guide her research interests," said Southern Nevada historian Liz Warren of Goodsprings.

"She was a primary source. She experienced so much in the recorded history of Southern Nevada. But not only did she live it, she would find out more about it and give readers as accurate and as true a picture as she could."

Lowe wrote of diverse subjects ranging from 19th century Mormon silk worm raising in homes to noted 20th century Western character, prospector and showman Frank "Death Valley Scotty" Scott, who had attended her wedding.

Some of Lowe's work has been featured as part of the The Pioneering Women of Death Valley exhibit at the Shoshone Museum, including a display of research materials for her biography of female Western author B.M. Bower.

Born Celesta Lisle, Lowe lived for a while on a Fernley ranch. Her grandfather had the contract for grading the railroad bed from Milford, Utah, to Las Vegas. Her father, John Quincy "Jack" Lisle, was a prospector and copper miner. Her late brother, Ralph Fairbanks Lisle, was a Nye County commissioner.

As a child, Celesta also lived in Baker and Tecopa, Calif. She graduated from El Monte (Calif.) High School in 1934.

A year later she married David Walker "Deke" Lowe, a station agent for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. The couple, in the 1940s, owned and operated the Goodsprings Hotel. He preceded her in death.

In the 1950s, Lowe attended Nevada Southern University, now UNLV, and took home economics classes, before becoming secretary to the school's librarian, James Dickinson. Lowe became the first Special Collections librarian when the department was created in 1967, said UNLV manuscripts librarian Su Kim Chung.

In addition to writing for magazines, Lowe wrote a column for seven years in the Sunday supplement of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Lowe was a charter member of the Las Vegas chapter of the National League of Pen Women and a founding member of the Southern Nevada Historical Society.

She is survived by four children, David Lowe of Sandy Valley, Lisle Lowe of Amargosa Valley, Janet Lowe of Santa Fe, N.M., and Carlsbad, Calif., and Dale Lowe of Las Vegas; nine grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

November 1, 2004

Tug of Wear Over Desert Homestead Shanties

Russell Scofield of the federal Bureau of Land Management visits an abandoned cabin in Wonder Valley. (Irfan Khan / LAT)

By Hugo Martín
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The days of homesteading are long gone. But in the Mojave Desert, on the eastern edge of the ever-expanding Southern California metropolis, the sun-bleached remnants of that pioneering era dot the landscape.

Off Cactus Jack Road in Wonder Valley is a bare frame structure with a collapsing roof and blown-out walls. Outside, a line of red ants and an occasional darting lizard are the only signs of life. Inside, a vintage record player, broken and faded by the sun, lies near a dog-eared Bible on a bare concrete floor.

The shack is one of hundreds of abandoned structures in the desert, left from a time when the federal government offered small parcels of scrubland for a nominal fee to anyone willing to put down stakes.

As more and more suburban neighborhoods sprout up in the desert, however, the weatherworn shanties have lost their decades of isolation, and they're now at the center of a local dust-up. Some longtime desert dwellers see the dilapidated structures as eyesores and want them torn down, while a growing number of newcomers want to preserve the shacks as historic landmarks.
"A little empty shell that is sitting out there is a beautiful thing," said Perry Hoffman, an artist and photographer who moved from San Francisco five years ago to live in a renovated homestead cabin in Wonder Valley.

Beautiful is not how Bob Dockendorff describes them. The Yucca Valley resident helped organize a federally funded program several years ago to demolish the most blighted structures. He said some of the buildings that were razed were havens for drug makers, squatters and vermin.

"When you drove through the area, you got a bad impression," he said.

Dotting the Landscape

Such disparate views are common in the Morongo Basin, a 5,200-square-mile expanse of desert just north of Joshua Tree National Park. The basin is home to more than 66,000 residents and an estimated 2,500 abandoned homestead shacks in various states of deterioration.

Most of the tiny cabins are on 5-acre parcels that were deeded by the federal government under the Small Tract Act of 1938, one of the last of the government's homestead acts. The government's goal was to distribute 457,000 acres of desert that the Bureau of Land Management deemed disposable, most of it in the California desert. By the time the act was repealed in 1976, about 36% of the land was privately owned. The rest is federally protected desert.

Under amendments to the act, homesteaders were granted a deed only if they built a structure with dimensions no less than 12 by 16 feet. No water or power was required. The government was required to charge fair-market prices, but the land was cheap. A couple in Joshua Tree paid $125 in 1954 for a 5-acre lot about a mile from the nearest paved road.

The offer of cheap land drew thousands of applications from World War II veterans and suburban dwellers looking for inexpensive vacation homes. Several construction companies sprang up in the desert, offering to build cheap structures that met the government's minimum requirement.

A few homesteaders stayed and raised families, but many more abandoned the cabins, yielding to the desert's searing temperatures, pounding wind and fierce dust storms. Other homesteaders died, leaving the deteriorating shacks to their children, who had no love for the harsh landscape.

As development has spread into the desert, business leaders and government officials have begun to look disdainfully on the ramshackle structures. The basin's population has grown by about 24,000, or 60%, from 1980 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census.

Five years ago, Dockendorff and other desert residents teamed up with San Bernardino County officials to demolish the most dilapidated and visible examples, particularly those along heavily traveled roads. The program, dubbed Shack Attack, was funded by a $500,000 federal grant and disposed of 116 shacks. At the behest of program organizers, the owners of 335 other cabins demolished their structures.

"The worst of the worst were taken care of," said Bruce Davis, an aide to county Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, whose district includes many of the homestead shacks.

But the cleanup program eliminated only a fraction of the shacks built throughout the basin. Sun and wind have reduced many to sun-dried wood frames. Some shacks still have remnants of the pink or lime-green roofing tiles that were used on the exterior walls as a cheap alternative to stucco or wood panels.

"I think they are eyesores," said Pat Flanagan, the marketing coordinator for the Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce, who converted a homestead shack into a guest house at her home in Desert Heights. "They do give a bad image to the area."

Law officers who patrol the Morongo Basin say the cabins occasionally attract squatters and teenagers on motorcycles who throw rocks through the windows. But the cabins do not represent a major law enforcement problem, said sheriff's Sgt. Richard Boswell.

"We don't have an inordinate amount of calls," he said.

Still, the Bureau of Land Management has received at least 50 complaints about illegal dumping at the abandoned shanties in the last eight years.

Russell Scofield, the habitat restoration coordinator for the BLM's office in Yucca Valley, said the dumping sometimes included hazardous materials such as car batteries, which can contaminate underground water supplies.

"The main problem is that they are attractive nuisances" — meaning they attract trouble — "the same as an abandoned warehouse in Los Angeles," he said.

Consensus Is Elusive

Even family members living in the desert sometimes can't agree on what to do about the buildings.

Ronald Phenning, a carpenter who bought, expanded and moved into a homestead cabin in 1982, overlooking several abandoned shacks in Wonder Valley, considers the buildings historic reminders of a bygone era.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's part of our heritage," he said.

Phenning installed electricity soon after he bought the cabin. Over the years, he has added several rooms and a workshop, where he builds tables and other furniture. He must still haul in water from the local water district in a huge tank. An outhouse is a bathroom.

The cabins are also part of Phenning's past. His parents were homesteaders who built a 16-by-12-foot cabin near Joshua Tree in 1950. The family used the cabin as a weekend getaway where Phenning and his brothers chased lizards and organized tortoise races in the sand.

Phenning's mother, Marjorie, has fond memories of the cabin, which the family sold once the boys were grown. But she disagrees with her son, seeing blight in the abandoned shacks.

"They just look unattractive," she said. "Why don't they tear them down?"

In the last few decades, the Morongo Basin has become a refuge for artists attracted to the serenity and beauty of the desert. Over the last year and a half, Hoffman, the artist and photographer who moved from San Francisco five years ago, has renovated a homestead cabin in Wonder Valley with colorful tile, pastel paint and desert-themed artwork. He rents the cabin to other artists, so they too can be inspired by the solitude.

The shacks are not eyesores but picturesque elements of the landscape, Hoffman argues.

"I love them," he said. "They are part of the desert out here."

Christine Carraher is an artist and medical transcriber who bought a home in Wonder Valley 10 years ago and converted an adjacent homestead cabin into a studio. She said she favored the removal of individual shacks that draw neighborhood complaints. But she fears that a wholesale demolition of the abandoned cabins would ruin the character of the region and open the door to widespread commercial development.

"The day that this place looks like San Bernardino and everyplace else, I'm gone," she said.

October 27, 2004

The Man Behind the Land

David Gelbaum has shunned publicity while giving millions to preserve California wilderness and teach youths about nature.

By Kenneth R. Weiss
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

He has given more money to conservation causes in California than anyone else. His gifts have helped protect 1,179 square miles of mountain and desert landscapes, an area the size of Yosemite National Park.

His donations to wilderness education programs have made it possible for 437,000 inner-city schoolchildren to visit the mountains, the desert or the beach — often for the first time.

Over a decade of steadily growing contributions — including more than $100 million to the Sierra Club — this mathematician turned financial angel has taken great pains to remain anonymous.

In manner and appearance, David Gelbaum has maintained a low profile for someone who can afford to give away hundreds of millions of dollars.

At age 55, retired from the rarefied world of Wall Street hedge funds, he lives in Newport Beach with his wife and two of his five children in a large home where visitors on occasion have mistaken him for the gardener. Bespectacled, 5 feet 5 and slightly built, he speaks softly, barely above a hoarse whisper. He drives a Honda Civic hybrid, wears jeans and T-shirts to business meetings and helps the kids clean up at the wilderness camp-outs he sponsors.

Those who know him say he is never more uncomfortable than when asked to talk about his wealth or how much of it he has given away.

His donations, which according to public records and other sources total at least $250 million, have preserved hundreds of miles of wildlife corridors across mountains and deserts, tying together once-isolated national parks and wilderness areas. One conservation deal, land trust experts say, is the largest single purchase of private land ever handed over to the U.S. government for one purpose: to leave it alone.

He has given more than $20 million to schools in Orange County and handed over 108 rolling acres in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains for use as an outdoor-education camp.

He has contributed $3.5 million to Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona's foundation to help the poorest children attend the camp's wilderness programs. Carona is both grateful and a bit mystified by the benefactor.

"He's one of these strange guys who doesn't want any publicity but wants to take care of kids and the community," Carona said. "When you look him in the eye and say, 'You've made a positive change in these kids' lives,' he does not want to take any credit for it. He's almost embarrassed when you say thank you to him."

(A federal grand jury recently subpoenaed financial records of Carona's foundation. Federal officials have not disclosed why they want the documents.)

Gelbaum, a native of Minnesota who moved to California as a teenager, was a math prodigy who parlayed his talents into a highly lucrative three-decade career using mathematical formulas to pick stocks and bonds for wealthy investors in hedge funds.

He won't say how much he made. He started giving his money away in ever-larger amounts in 1994.

"Most wealthy people spend their lives trying to make more and more money rather than give it away," Gelbaum said during a series of interviews that he agreed to only reluctantly. "They wait too long. They are depriving themselves of a lot of joy. I'm doing what I want to do. It's not like it's money that I or my family will ever need.

"It's a joy to see this land preserved and opening these kids' eyes to the natural world. It's not like burning the money. It goes into the land or into the kids' experiences. Both last forever."

Some charitable foundations have given more money to conservation causes, but much of it is aimed at saving tropical rain forests or other overseas ventures. The only individual whose contributions to California conservation rival Gelbaum's is Caroline Getty, granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. She recently donated $150 million to the Preserving Wild California project of the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.

Gelbaum said his interest in land conservation was inspired by camping trips he took with his father and brothers to lakes in northern Minnesota, as well as Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Whitney. "Those were the happiest memories of my childhood."

It isn't enough, he said, "to protect wilderness just for people who can afford to go to it. I think bringing kids out to the wild is unquestionably the right thing to do. These kids have pretty tough lives. It opens their eyes to the world outside of their neighborhood. Some of the kids will grow up to protect the land they learn to love. You could look at it as an investment into the environment."

When making donations, Gelbaum usually insists that his identity not be revealed — out of concern, he says, for his family's security.

Besides, he said, "I don't think that if you have a lot money and you give away a lot of money, you should get a lot of recognition. You shouldn't be able to buy that."

Gelbaum has made his largest contributions to the 10-year-old Wildlands Conservancy, an Oak Glen, Calif.-based group that he co-founded with David Myers, who has remained the group's executive director.

Myers, an ardent environmentalist, wanted to sell 640 acres of desert land he owned near Yucca Valley and use most of the proceeds for other conservation projects. In 1994, he placed a newspaper ad seeking "a conservation-minded donor" who would buy, but not develop, the land. Gelbaum answered the ad. They have been working together ever since.

Gelbaum now acknowledges that he has been the biggest benefactor of the conservancy and its sister organization, the Wildlands Endowment Fund, which has taken in $157.8 million for land preservation, outdoor education and related programs.

But for the last decade, Myers avoided revealing the identity of his reclusive angel, despite growing curiosity about who was bankrolling this obscure conservation organization that was buying and swapping real estate with the gusto of a 19th century land baron.

Beginning in 1995, the group began making strategic land purchases, now totaling 70 square miles, in order to link the San Bernardino, San Jacinto and Big Horn Mountains with Joshua Tree National Park.

The next year, Wildlands purchased a 97,000-acre former cattle ranch in the foothills of the San Emigdio Mountains, northwest of Gorman, where a developer once hoped to build thousands of luxury homes.

Just outside metropolitan Los Angeles, the ranch, renamed Wind Wolves, has become the West Coast's largest privately owned nature preserve, its cascading hills and steep canyons an hour and half drive from the nation's second largest city.

By 2000, Wildlands had filled many of the largest holes in the wilderness tapestry created by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. The legislation created the Mojave National Preserve, enlarged Joshua Tree and Death Valley national monuments and elevated both to national park status but left intact several privately owned parcels.

Wildlands bought out the largest of the landowners, the former real estate arm of the Santa Fe Pacific Corp. railroad, which had threatened to open the desert to development. Wildlands acquired 1,000 square miles and turned over the land to the federal government.

In 2001, Gelbaum branched out with two back-to-back anonymous gifts to the Sierra Club Foundation that dwarfed all previous individual contributions to the club. The $101.5 million in donations led to a 10-fold increase in the club's Youth in Wilderness programs and expansion of many other club activities.

But the windfall caused a stir internally. Gelbaum's identity, known only to a few Sierra Club officials, became an issue in a bitter struggle for control of the club's board of directors.

A slate of candidates, which wanted the club to call for tighter controls on immigration to stabilize the U.S. population and its impact on the environment, demanded to know the source of the donations. The candidates contended that the club's leadership opposed their election partly because of pressure brought by the secret donor.

"Is this foreign money? Is it money that comes with special obligations? I would want to know I'm not running a laundry or being a front group for an entity that doesn't have the best interests of the United States at heart," said former Colorado Gov. David Lamm.

Lamm and other like-minded candidates were soundly defeated in a vote of club members last April, and the source of the money was not revealed. But clues surfaced during the flap.

A Sierra Club official let slip a comment about a pair of unnamed brothers. That and other bits of information led The Times to Gelbaum, who, with his brother, Daniel, sat on the Wildlands Conservancy's board of directors, along with Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

David Gelbaum insisted that he played no role in the election. He dismissed allegations that he is calling the shots at the club in any other way.

"None of that is true," he said. "I'm not some Svengali. I'm not that engaged."

But he said Pope long had known where he stood on the contentious issue. "I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me."

Gelbaum said he was a substantial donor at the time but not yet the club's largest benefactor. Immigration arose as an issue in 1994 because Proposition 187, which threatened to deny public education and health care to illegal immigrants, was on the state's ballot.

He said he was so upset by the idea of "pulling kids out of school" that he donated more than $180,000 to the campaign to oppose Proposition 187. After the measure passed, he said, he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to civil rights lawyers who ultimately got the measure struck down in court.

Gelbaum, who reads the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión and is married to a Mexican American, said his views on immigration were shaped long ago by his grandfather, Abraham, a watchmaker who had come to America to escape persecution of Jews in Ukraine before World War I.

"I asked, 'Abe, what do you think about all of these Mexicans coming here?' " Gelbaum said. "Abe didn't speak English that well. He said, 'I came here. How can I tell them not to come?'

"I cannot support an organization that is anti-immigration. It would dishonor the memory of my grandparents."

Born in Minneapolis, the second of four sons, Gelbaum moved to California when his father, Bernard Gelbaum, became founding chairman of the UC Irvine math department.

David Gelbaum showed early prowess in math, taking calculus at UC Irvine while still in high school. Months before he graduated from UCI in 1972, he was hired by math professor Edward O. Thorp to help with a business that needed a math researcher.

Thorp, who wrote the book "Beat the Dealer," about how to count cards and win at blackjack, was applying mathematical wizardry to the largest crap game in the world: Wall Street.

His formulas, which later appeared in his book "Beat the Market," led him to launch the nation's first market-neutral hedge fund — one intended to make money for investors whether the market goes up or down. From 1970 to 1989, the fund never had a losing quarter and increased investors' money more than 13-fold.

Gelbaum was one of his first math researchers hired to track and exploit the price discrepancies between a company's stocks and its options, warrants and convertible bonds.

"He was smart. He was idiosyncratic. He was always looking for more," Thorp said.

Thorp recalls a conversation with young Gelbaum about his salary.

"I said, 'I think we can multiply your salary by five times in five years.' He came back to me five years later with the same question. I said, 'I think I can multiply your salary by five times in five years. But I don't think I'll be able to do that again.'"

The firm, called Princeton-Newport Partners, was dissolved in 1989, when five of the firm's stock brokers based in Princeton, N.J., were convicted of scheming to create illegitimate tax losses. The convictions were overturned on appeal. Neither Thorp nor Gelbaum was implicated in the scandal.

Gelbaum emerged from the wreckage as a principal in a new investment firm, operating a new hedge fund using math formulas pioneered by Thorp.

Gelbaum declined to talk about the firm, Sierra Enterprises Group, from which he retired a few years ago. His business success, he said, "was all a matter of chance. It certainly wasn't because I worked 5,000 times as hard as the average person or was 5,000 times smarter than the average person."

He was more forthcoming about his venture into the cattle business. In the mid-1990s, he bought a pair of ranches "to run in an environmentally sensitive manner."

The Kane and Two-Mile ranches are in northern Arizona, a place Gelbaum learned about in a college ecology class. This is where Theodore Roosevelt once hunted mountain lions to reduce predators and increase the number of deer. The deer population soared and then starved in what became a textbook case of disrupting nature's balance chronicled by America's foremost ecologist, Aldo Leopold, in "A Sand County Almanac."

"It caught my imagination," Gelbaum said. So he bought the ranches and arrived with a message. "I told people when I came to Arizona I wanted to be good to the land and good to the people."

He won praise for removing cattle from wilderness areas and for raising wages of the cowboys and providing them housing and health care. He recently agreed to sell the ranches to the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation group, for $4.5 million.

The ranches cover about 1,000 acres and control grazing rights on 900,000 acres of surrounding federal land.

Four years ago, President Clinton turned a large swath of these grazing lands into the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Gelbaum won the admiration of then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Babbitt's plan provoked the ire of local ranchers, who complained that it would run ranchers off good grazing land. At the height of the protests, Gelbaum's ranch manager stood up in a packed meeting hall and explained that his boss controlled all of the grazing rights in the area and considered the monument perfectly compatible with his ranching operations.

The speech hushed the protesters and allowed the monument to go forward.

"I half-thought about recommending to the president to name the national monument after David Gelbaum," Babbitt said. "Without David Gelbaum, it might well not have happened."

Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

October 20, 2004

They're All Over the Map

The Auto Club's intrepid cartographers traverse the rural Southwest cataloging the uncharted features of a changing landscape.

John O'Dell
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

VIRGIN MOUNTAINS, Ariz. — Shane Henry steered his truck along a dusty road, emerging from a steep, cool pine forest and dead-ending on the edge of a precipice. The uncharted spot provided a breathtaking, 30-mile-wide panoramic view of the Virgin River Gorge, stretching northeast into Utah.

For Henry, a field cartographer for the Automobile Club of Southern California, it was a great day of discovery. After finding the overlook, he spotted ruins of a forgotten century-old cattle ranch near a pair of freshwater springs. Between overlook and ruins, he had also found 10 miles of a drivable dirt road. None are on the Auto Club's current "Indian Country" road map, but all his finds will be on a new version due out in two years.

Despite the popularity of Global Positioning System navigation and earth-blanketing satellite photography, there are still places few have seen and roads few have traveled. Henry and his senior road-mapping colleague, John Skinner, are helping to find them.

The duo of Skinner and Henry doesn't have the same poetic ring as Lewis and Clark. But 200 years after the famous explorers began their mapping trip through the American West, Skinner and Henry are doing much the same work, traveling the rugged backcountry of the Southwest, looking for something new.

The two explorers are a rarity in the modern world of mapmaking. Rand McNally Co. and the various AAA groups are the primary publishers of U.S. road maps. Most full-time field researchers work on roadways in urban and suburban areas.

Skinner and Henry "are probably the only ones in the U.S. doing what they do" with backcountry mapping, says Bill Scharf, head of the Auto Club's cartography division. The Los Angeles-based club publishes 90 different maps and distributes 7 million road maps annually. It tries to update them every other year.

Every dirt road and trail shown on them will eventually be driven and rated by the Auto Club's field cartographers. But they rarely work together.

"There's too much work to do to team up," Skinner says.

They spend 10 months a year on the road, racking up about 60,000 miles each in four-wheel-drive trucks. The Auto Club provides the trucks, which are adorned with the club's logo and a banner: "Map Unit."

Their territory is vast. Skinner and Henry cover the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, rural regions of 13 Southern California counties and all of Baja California. They also map the Four Corners area — a 130,000-square-mile region surrounding the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah all touch — which is included in the club's celebrated Indian Country map.

That map is a fixture in tourists' cars and ranchers' pickups alike. Its accuracy is why "everyone around here uses it," says Ed Chamberlin, curator of the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site museum on the Navajo Reservation in Ganado, Ariz.

Novelist Tony Hillerman, whose mysteries featuring Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn have brought the Four Corners region alive for millions of readers, has also made the map a key part of his fictional cop's crime-fighting arsenal.

Henry, 42, a former actor, has been on the job for three years; Skinner, 59, is a trained geographer who has been riding trail for the Auto Club for 22 years.

John Skinner reviews a map while working near Barstow. (John O’Dell / LAT)

Skinner quit in the '90s and moved to Arizona for three years in pursuit of a romance that ultimately failed. When the heartbreak healed, he asked for his old job back and hit the road again.

"This job is not good for relationships," says Skinner, who has been engaged three times but has never married.

Skinner and Henry work in trucks loaded with GPS navigation systems and highly detailed federal topographical maps to trace their tracks. Backseats and cargo areas are filled with piles of extra maps, cellphones, tents and food. They carry jacks, flares, survival kits, tire pumps, extra fuel lines, transmission oil and fan belts.

As they drive, Skinner and Henry continually check special odometers, accurate to within one-thousandth of a mile, to verify that the distances already listed on maps are precise. They also rate road conditions to ensure that routes haven't been washed out by flash floods or altered by construction. Their discoveries may include stone quarries, mines, washes, overlooks, abandoned towns and a dizzying variety of unpaved roads.

Dirt roads on AAA maps are rated from graded and gravel-topped thoroughfares to badly eroded and rutted tracks best suited for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts.

"We want to make sure that if a mom in her Volvo decides to take one of these roads, she'll be able to make it," Henry says.

On the job, Skinner and Henry usually sleep in motels, not tents. Still, notes Denis Cosgrove, a cultural geography professor at UCLA, the two are throwbacks who resemble "the early topographers, trekking out into inaccessible places and trying to reduce a part of the world to a page on a map."

The job has its perils.

Skinner and Henry have had encounters with mountain lions and rattlesnakes. And they give wide berth to desert compounds littered with the glass vials and metal cooking pots that mark the illegal drug-making operations of modern outlaws.

The mapmakers say their work requires a big helping of self-confidence. Henry was on a rough dirt road in the mountains northwest of Lake Powell in Utah when he saw the road ahead disappearing between some rocks. Usually he would get out and walk the route to see where it went before proceeding, but it was late and he was tired, so he just drove on.

As Henry passed the curve it turned into a narrow, terrifying stretch made up of loose rock rubble with a 200-foot drop on one side. He kept going, in part because an Auto Club map indicated that the road led across the mountain summit.

But about 200 yards from the top he found himself trapped. The road's loose rock had turned into a series of 18-inch-high granite ledges.

"Those steps were just a little too high for my truck tires to roll over," Henry says.

He couldn't make a U-turn because the road was too narrow. One option was to back downhill, but he faced a mile-long path of scree with the long drop on one side. So he decided to keep going up. He exited the truck very carefully, so he wouldn't slip off the precipice, then gathered rocks to build a little ramp so he could drive over the step. Then every 30 feet or so he stopped because of another granite step and had to build a new ramp. It took Henry four hours to drive 200 yards.

"This is a good example of why we drive all these roads," he says. On the older map it showed as a rough but usable dirt road across the summit. "But it had deteriorated so badly it was impassable for most people, so I took it out" for the new map, he says.

Skinner and Henry can trace their jobs back to 1905, when AAA published its first road map and helped pioneer the industry at a time when motorists were few and marked roads fewer. In those days, maps were basically logbooks written to describe trips with descriptions of key geographic spots, gas stations, historic buildings, river bends, anything to guide drivers.

Later, auto clubs and other promoters invented names for roads and posted road signs for travelers to follow. But there was no uniformity. The same road could be called one name by a city, another by a real estate developer who had published his own map and something else by a local travel and touring club.

It wasn't until 1916, when Rand McNally started its own route numbering system, that travelers heading south from Boston to Florida could follow a route that retained the same name from state to state — as long as they used Rand McNally maps. Finally, in 1924, the federal government adopted a uniform numbering system so that major travel routes would retain their identities across the country.

Both Skinner and Henry took circuitous routes to land their current jobs.

Skinner was a ship navigator in the Navy, then earned a degree in geography from Cal State Fresno. He worked four years for a local AAA office as a tourist counselor, offering maps and advice on trips. When a job opened up as a field cartographer in 1979, he took it.

Shane Henry inspects a U.S. Geological Survey marker. (John O’Dell / LAT)

Henry grew up in rural Oregon and earned a master of fine arts degree in classical theater at the University of Alabama. He spent 15 years traveling the country as an actor and dancer in regional theaters. He met Skinner by chance when Skinner was on a mapping trip in Los Padres National Forest and was fixing a flat tire. Henry was out hiking and struck up a conversation. Skinner told him about an opening for another map researcher.

A typical day of mapping covers 30 to 50 miles of dirt roads.

On trips to Baja California and Indian Country, Skinner and Henry often travel for three weeks at time. But the Auto Club requires them to take off one day in seven.

"It can be a real pain when you are out in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing you can do with your day off is sit around a lonely motel or campsite," Henry says.

Although he and Skinner meet plenty of storekeepers, restaurant workers and travelers in their work, their return visits are so far apart that friendships rarely form.

"You do have to like to work by yourself," Henry says.

Yet of the 10 field cartographers the Southern California club has hired in the last 35 years, only one has quit for good to pursue a more normal lifestyle. That was Dan Goodwin, now a 44-year-old environmental health and safety manager for a manufacturer in Pasadena.

In 1986, with a newly minted geography degree from UC Santa Barbara, Goodwin thought the job would be perfect, but eventually the loneliness got to him.

"I found myself wishing that I had someone with me on those road trips to share it with," he says. Goodwin quit in 1989.

The club prides itself on the accuracy of its maps, but errors do occur. Sometimes a field researcher fails to properly record the distance between road junctions, or omits a creek or gives a bad road a better rating than it deserves.

"Every once in a while we'll get a call or a letter from someone who took a car or a Winnebago too far down a road and got stuck or found that the road was a lot nastier than the map suggested," says Jim Kendall, the local Auto Club's map research chief. So when Skinner or Henry makes a rare appearance at the club's Costa Mesa office, he is often handed a pile of complaints to check out before the next map is printed.

Sometimes the cartographers find the mistakes on their own.

On a trip near Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah last year, Henry drove across a little creek and stopped for lunch. Then a sudden thunderstorm hit and dumped enough water to swell the creek into a torrent. A creek that had been 6 inches deep was now 3 feet deep, and it would have flooded Henry's engine had he tried to drive back. But his Auto Club map showed he was near a dirt road leading to a highway, so he took it.

Unfortunately, the map failed to show that the road crossed the same creek again before reaching the highway. When he arrived at the second crossing, the water was deep and running fast. But Henry carries a pair of 6-foot boards in his pickup for just such emergencies, and he spent several hours piling up rocks so he could lay the boards over them as a makeshift bridge.

After driving across, Henry says, "I saw a homemade sign someone had put up that said, 'Creek may rise without warning.' "

That second crossing is now on the Auto Club's Indian Country map.

October 6, 2004

Mojave Resentment

Los Angeles Times

Re: "In the Mojave Preserve, Emotions Still Run Hot," Sept. 26: The East Mojave Preserve is not the private elite property of the wilderness lobbies. The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity have waged a campaign with their own exclusive agenda.

The new wilderness area closes historical public access to millions of acres of the California desert. Those of us who live in the desert and know the East Mojave resent the intent to exclude the public by closing roads and camp areas that date back to California's earliest history.

Jim Bagley
Twentynine Palms

September 30, 2004

Wildlife Protections on Hold

By Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Under a temporary rule issued Wednesday by the Bush administration, national forest managers won't have to adhere to strict wildlife protections that have been in place for more than two decades.

The rule is not the last word on the protections, which since 1982 have directed the U.S. Forest Service to manage national forests to maintain "viable populations" of fish and wildlife. Officials could not say when a final regulation would be published.

Issued in 1982 by the Reagan administration, the viability requirement was often cited in lawsuits that forced the Forest Service to reduce timber cutting in regions with declining populations of owls and other animals.

Many conservationists consider it a key safeguard for wildlife. "It's been the [agency's] only rule protecting wildlife," said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

The Bush administration proposed nearly two years ago to weaken the requirement as part of a revision of forest planning rules that had been rewritten by the Clinton administration.

Forest Service spokesman Joseph Walsh said there was confusion over the two rewrites, and that the temporary directive was intended as a clarification.

It states that until final regulations are issued, forest managers can follow the 1982 regulations if they wish but that they are "not in effect." It directs managers to base forest plans on "the best available science."

There is no mention of species viability in the temporary rule, but Walsh said it remained a Forest Service concern. "What we're trying to do is ensure all species have a viable habitat," he said. "If that's not good enough, I don't know what to say."

Environmentalists called Wednesday's edict a precursor to a formal abandonment of the viability protections.

"This is another effort to sidestep the law and eliminate accountability … and give free rein to exploitation of forests," said Earthjustice lawyer Todd True.

The "best science," he added, could mean radically different things to different managers.

September 26, 2004

In the Mojave Preserve, Emotions Still Run Hot

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE, Calif. — To many, this is a place to hurry through. The austere expanse of scrubby desert and jagged mountains in the care of the National Park Service is more popular as a shortcut between Los Angeles and Las Vegas than it is as a destination.

A recent Park Service survey found that the majority of the 650,000 annual visitors here spend less than three hours before moving on. The survey reflects a hard truth: The 1.6-million-acre preserve is an acquired taste.

As the preserve's 10th anniversary approaches, its proponents celebrate it as a citadel of nature amid an onrushing tide of development, while local residents continue to resent the limits on off-road exploration, hunting, cattle ranching and other economic activities.

About an hour's drive northeast of Barstow, the preserve was established as part of the California Desert Protection Act. The legislation set aside more land than any previous conservation law in the lower 48 states. It expanded Joshua Tree and Death Valley national monuments, conferring national park status on each, and it created new wilderness in areas managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In all, the act increased protection for more than 9 million acres of desert.

If the acreage lacks the majesty of the Grand Canyon and other desert parks, it makes up for it in sheer scope. The three desert parks help keep intact a chain of wildlife habitat and migration pathways from the San Bernardino Mountains to the San Jacinto Mountains.

"We almost have a wildlife preserve from Joshua Tree through to Death Valley. That's a wildlife corridor 100 miles wide," said Elden Hughes, chairman of the Sierra Club's California-Nevada Desert Committee. "That is an amazing achievement."

The Mojave National Preserve is home to about 200 native plant species, including the Mojave yucca and its menacing-looking cousin, the Spanish bayonet, as well as one of the country's largest and densest Joshua tree forests. Some of the rocks here date back 2.5 million years. The preserve supports a broad array of animal life: bighorn sheep, desert iguanas, chuckwallas, the long-nosed leopard lizard, 10 species of snakes and the threatened California desert tortoise.

The preserve was created over the angry objections of miners, motorcyclists, ranchers, rock hounds, hunters and property owners who argued that their freedom to enjoy the desert or eke out a living in it was being subordinated to the well-being of cacti and reptiles.

In Washington, D.C., congressional opponents sought to restrict the preserve's first budget in 1995 to $1. After President Clinton's veto, Congress allocated money, but only enough to hire a staff of four.

A decade later, the bitterness remains. Critics accuse the Park Service of systematically phasing out activities that Congress intended to protect. One of the most acrimonious debates has been over access. New rules barred motorized travel on desert tracks and trails that historically were open to Jeeps, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

Now, as the Park Service prepares for next month's anniversary celebration, San Bernardino County supervisors are threatening to punch 2,500 miles of roads through the preserve, saying they're entitled to do so under a 19th century statute enacted to promote settlement of the Western frontier.

"The Park Service wants to return to the time of the Indians. These guys are anti-people," said Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Assn., which represents private property owners who own parcels within public land. Cushman grew up in the Mojave. "They only want enough visitors to justify their budget. It's a new paganism: They worship trees and sacrifice people."

Park Service officials insist the only human activity they want to restrain is the illegal sort, and they have encountered plenty of that — the running of methamphetamine labs, the rampant poaching of protected animals and the dumping of household trash and industrial waste.

Friction between the Park Service and law-abiding residents was inevitable. When the Park Service took over, about 1,200 people owned property inside the preserve. Cattle grazed across 940,000 acres. There were 9,000 mining claims.

In 1996, Catellus Development Corp., the former real estate arm of the Southern Pacific Railway and the largest private landlord within the preserve, began mining surveys and subdivision mapping. A Las Vegas developer announced plans to build 100 homes and a golf course on privately owned land within five miles of the preserve's largest herd of desert bighorn sheep.

Lawmakers specifically designated the land a preserve and not a park accommodating such traditional human uses as hunting, trapping and cattle grazing. At the same time, it was intended as a sanctuary for a desert ecosystem that had been under stress from decades of human activity. Many of the area's natural springs had disappeared, a casualty of livestock grazing and some 4,000 feral burros, which had also destroyed native plants and tortoise habitat.

With help from conservation groups, Mojave preserve Supt. Mary Martin, who has worked there since its inception, launched a campaign to retire grazing rights and buy out the largest private holdings. Catellus is gone. No mines are currently operating, and Martin's staff is cleaning more than 600 abandoned mines. Livestock occupy little more than a quarter of the land they grazed in 1994. Only one cattle ranch is left.

Martin said preliminary results of a water survey indicate 150 functioning springs, the most ever recorded there.

"We've had a lot of successes, we really have," she said. "The desert tortoise is much more protected. Visitors now have marked trails to hike on. The dunes are in better shape — we've now got vegetation there. The water situation is much improved. We've managed to keep development out of the park. I believe we are absolutely managing the preserve in the manner that Congress told us to."

Yet conflicts persist.

Martin wants to remove at least some of the 139 "guzzlers," or man-made water sources, maintained by hunters to help sustain game animals. Martin said drowned tortoises have been found in 27% of the guzzlers.

The guzzler dispute underscores an age-old debate between those who believe that natural conditions should determine the size of wild herds and those who want to ensure a plentiful supply of big game.

Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, strongly disagrees with those who say that the National Park Service's management is subverting the intent of Congress.

"Congress said those activities may continue," Patterson said. "There's a difference between allowing an activity, and planning and managing for it."

Many in San Bernardino County "have lost sight of the 'national' part of the preserve," Patterson said. "It's not the 'San Bernardino Preserve' or the 'Barstow Preserve.' It's a national preserve."

But Congress did promise local benefits. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other supporters of the Desert Protection Act said it would boost the fortunes of a region too long dependent on a 19th century economy of ranching and mining.

Joshua Tree and Death Valley are significant tourism draws, bringing in $46 million and $44 million respectively each year to local economies, according to a 2003 study by the National Parks Conservation Assn. The Mojave National Preserve lagged significantly behind, generating $5.1 million.

Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale said he had no idea whether visitors to the preserve stayed in the city.

"I don't think it has had an impact one way or another," said Dale, who said he has never visited the preserve.

Critics may exaggerate the changes, but for them, the Mojave they cherished is less accessible. It was a place where families prospected around old mines and drove right up to the low-lying mountains for picnics among the boulders.

"There was a functional piece of Americana out here. But now, is it better off? I don't really see it," said Dennis Casebier, a local historian and 50-year resident of the area.

But Casebier's Mojave was doomed, say preserve advocates like Elden Hughes.

"The vision was that this was a living museum from the 1890s," Hughes said. "The vision was an impossible one, and not even a good one. You have the fastest-growing urban center, Las Vegas, and the L.A. Basin spilling over the mountains, and you think you are going to keep ranching there? Parks and wilderness are something you can keep. The laws are strong."

September 22, 2004

Celebrating the desert

Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the
California Desert Protection Act

by Dianne Feinstein
National Parks

Ten years ago this October, Bill Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act into law, preserving nearly nine million acres of stunning landscape for generations to come.

With the passage of this legislation, the largest parks and wilderness bill to affect the lower 48 states was enacted, redesignating and expanding Joshua Tree and Death Valley national monuments as national parks and establishing Mojave National Preserve.

Protecting these beautiful lands stands as one of my proudest legislative accomplishments to this day.

The California desert is home to some of the last remaining dinosaur tracks, Native American petroglyphs, abundant spring wildflowers, and threatened species, including the bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise, an animal known to live for as many as 100 years.

Joshua Tree, encompassing parts of both the Mojave and the Colorado deserts, contains magnificent rock formations and forests that blanket the high country throughout the park. The abundant yellow creosote bushes of the eastern side of the park are mirrored by the rugged Joshua trees to the west.

The Death Valley landscape, marked by a diverse range of salt playas, alpine forests, and jagged rocks, is one of the hottest, driest, and lowest places on Earth. At one lookout point in the park, Dante's View, a visitor may look down into Badwater, the lowest place in the western hemisphere, and on a clear day look west to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states.

Mojave National Preserve, with its granite, limestone, and metamorphic rocks, has a remarkable geologic diversity, as well as the largest Joshua tree forest in the world. Many of the preserve's peaks are pink at the top, the result of a volcanic explosion more than 18 million years ago in Arizona that sent deposits flying through the air and flowing across the land to the Mojave Desert.

These lands are not only home to beautiful scenery, they are also sacred lands to Native American Tribes. Petroglyphs, archaeological sites, and medicinal plants may be found throughout these parks.

The California Desert Protection Act ensured that these lands would be preserved for years to come. In total, the act raised the protection level for nine million acres of parks and wilderness.

Since 2000, the wilderness area has been expanded even farther with the purchase of nearly 600,000 acres of land primarily in and around Mojave National Preserve. The transaction, the largest conservation acquisition of private lands in U.S. history, combined federal Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations with funding from the Wildlands Conservancy to buy discounted land owned by the Catellus Development Corporation.

This expansion protected 200,000 acres of critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise, 150,000 acres for bighorn sheep, the largest cactus gardens in the world at Bigelow Cholla Gardens, and rights-of-way for 165 trails and access roads leading to 3.7 million additional acres of land used for hunting, hiking, and camping.

Visitors have taken advantage of these abundant recreation and research opportunities in the California desert. Last year, 2.8 million people traveled to Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and Mojave National Preserve. In turn, these visitors provided an economic boost of approximately $100 million at nearby hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses.

Now, as we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act, the preservation of our National Park System has never been more important. Population growth, especially in the western United States, is placing increased pressure on our public lands and the demand for recreation areas. That is why it was so critical that we acted ten years ago and why it is urgent that we continue to preserve our nation's natural treasures today.

Unfortunately, there is much evidence that our national parks are not receiving the funding or attention they deserve. A recent survey of 12 national parks by the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees found that six parks had either reduced or planned to reduce visitor center hours or days of operation. The survey also found that 'all 12 parks had recently cut fulltime or seasonal staff" positions.

One of the parks surveyed, Death Valley, reduced its law enforcement positions from 23 several years ago to 15 at the time of the study. More than 600 miles of backcountry roads are inadequately secured, leaving natural resources, wildlife, and visitors less safe.

Meanwhile, the backlog of maintenance projects in our parks has grown to a range of $4 billion to $6.8 billion, according to the General Accounting Office. Throughout our park system, roads, bridges, and historic structures are falling into disrepair, trails and campgrounds are poorly maintained, and visitor centers are becoming outdated.

Additionally, a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency designated eight national parks, four of which are in California, as containing excessively high levels of ozone. It is alarming to know that the air at Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks is harmful to one's health, especially since the problem of poor air quality in these regions was identified for action under the Clean Air Act in 1977.

Our national parks are America's treasures. They make the natural beauty of our nation accessible to all Americans and, indeed, visitors from around the world. We have a responsibility to preserve these places for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Enacting the California Desert Protection Act was an important step toward that end. Now, we must continue to work to ensure that the parks we have already established, and those we may yet protect, have the resources they need.

Defending the desert

In 1986, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to strengthen protection for sites in the California desert by placing them under the National Park Service. Subsequently, California elected Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who shared Cranston's vision. In January 1993, Sen. Feinstein introduced the California Desert Protection Act, her first piece of legislation. A year and a half later, the legislation was signed into law by President Clinton. With Feinstein's leadership and the support of a variety of environmental groups including NPCA, Congress passed the landmark legislation, protecting nearly nine million acres of the California desert.

In the past ten years, NPCA has continued to protect these special places from a variety of threats. NPCA has been instrumental in blocking the world's largest landfill for a site outside of Joshua Tree and helped to stave off a development outside the park that would have included thousands of homes. NPCA helped to stop plans to mine an underground aquifer near Mojave National Preserve. NPCA is opposing county road claims in the desert parks and working for cleaner park air and better funding. NPCA recently established a field office in Joshua Tree, California, to build a strong local constituency for Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and Mojave National Preserve.

Please join us in celebrating the passage of this extraordinary legislation. We hope you enjoy the senator's reflections on the desert as well as the destination guide and calendar of events.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is in her second full term. She serves on several Senate committees, including Appropriations and Energy and Natural Resources.

COPYRIGHT 2004 National Parks and Conservation Association

September 10, 2004


Congressional Hearing was held in Fontana, California on the Impact of the Endangered Species Act on the Inland Empire

Contact: Meg Grossglass
Communications Coordinator


FONTANA, CALIFORNIA (September 10, 2004) - The House Resources Committee, led by Chairman Richard Pombo, heard testimony to examine the impacts of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Southern California's Inland Empire. The Inland Empire includes all of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and a piece of the eastern part of Los Angeles County. It encompasses all of the San Bernardino National Forest and popular off-road recreation sites such as Johnson Valley, Stoddard Valley, and Dumont Dunes.

Congressman Pombo opened the hearing by pointing out that the ESA is "broken" and needs to be "fixed." He stated that "during the past ten years, 1300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act and only 7 have ever been delisted."

Roy Denner, President of the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), joined the mayors of Fontana, Colton, and Rialto and a Fontana City Council member in presenting examples of how the Inland Empire has been negatively impacted by the ESA. The popular species of the day for the local politicians was the "Delhi Sand Flower-Loving Fly." This is a fly that lives underground and only surfaces for two weeks in the fall to breed and then goes back underground.

Story after story was told about the many projects that this Fly has stopped or delayed. According to the mayor of Fontana, several important freeway interchanges, drastically needed in the area to alleviate traffic congestion, have been held up for three years because they are in the Fly's habitat. Pictures provided by the mayor of Colton depict "Fly induced blight" showing areas that have been designated as the Fly's critical habitat that have become dumping grounds for trash. The city is prevented, by the requirements of the ESA, from going into the designated habitat to clean up the trash.

Congressman Joe Baca asked if anyone has ever seen one of these flies. Not one person in attendance had ever seen a live Delhi Sand Flower-Loving Fly, although the Executive Director for the Endangered Habitats League, who also testified at the Hearing, indicated that he had actually seen a dead specimen and indicated that he felt it is important to "preserve all of Creation - including the Delhi Sands Fly and its ecosystem." Congressman Baca asked how one could identify the Fly. He demonstrated, with a rolled up newspaper, what he would do if the unidentified fly landed in front of him - an act that could lead to jail time!

Denner addressed other ESA impacts within the Inland Empire. He cited the Mojave Desert Tortoise as an example of a species listed as "threatened" under the ESA that was "listed with very little supporting science and has had a tremendous negative impact on the public use of public lands within the Inland Empire." He pointed out that "4 million acres of the 10 million acres of California Desert that is managed by the BLM have been designated as critical habitat for the Tortoise." An analysis by the General Accounting Office shows that over $100 million of taxpayer money has been spent on attempting to recover the Desert Tortoise and not one Tortoise can be shown to have been saved by the efforts.

ORBA's President also described the closures of routes and trails, the elimination of logging, and the restrictions to clearing of underbrush and fire breaks in the San Bernardino National Forest - all in the name of protecting species. He described how the popular resort cities of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead were threatened last year by a forest fire fueled by the underbrush and inaccessible by fire fighting equipment due to trail closures. "Trails that are blocked off to recreation vehicles are also blocked off to fire trucks" said Denner.

Julie MacDonald, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, testified that 100% of the Agency's budget goes to respond to court orders resulting from lawsuits filed under the Endangered Species Act. She indicated that it would take 10 years of the Agency's current budget to respond to the huge backlog of existing court orders. As a result, no funds remain to actually deal with managing the species in accordance with the ESA. In the meantime, petition after petition, drafted by environmental organizations, are being filed to list new species.

Chairman Pombo closed the Hearing by telling everyone that he is working very hard in Congress to get support for bringing reason back to the ESA. He stated that "nobody is asking to do away with the ESA. It just needs to be modified to provide species protection in a way that can be managed."

August 30, 2004

Interior encourages BLM land sales

Selling public lands will let Western cities sprawl into new territory

High Country News

In a couple of years, BLM lands around fast-growing cities like St. George, Utah, could hamper growth.

More than 20 years ago, President Ronald Reagan and his advisors looked across the West’s public lands and saw dollar signs. Money was something they desperately needed in 1982, as the national deficit hit $128 billion.

So James Watt, then U.S. secretary of the Interior, and John R. Block, the secretary of Agriculture, earmarked 35 million acres, or 5 percent of the nation’s public lands (excluding Alaska), for the auction block.

The plan to privatize public lands was met with outrage and skepticism, not only from Western liberals such as Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, but also from conservatives like Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, who objected because the states were cut out of the deal.

Watt eventually withdrew Interior lands from the sale; shortly thereafter, the Forest Service’s sale lost steam, too.

However unpopular the proposed sales were, they weren’t illegal. And the idea didn’t go away. The framework for selling public lands has inched forward since the Clinton administration, and now the Interior Department wants to give it a higher priority.

The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) required the Bureau of Land Management to identify lands that were "uneconomical to manage," or that stood in the way of a community’s development.

But the BLM lacked a strong incentive to identify such sellable lands: Under FLPMA, any money received from their sale would go directly into the U.S. Treasury, rather than into the agency’s own coffers.

Then, in 2000, Congress and the Clinton administration passed the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which changed how profits from BLM land sales were distributed.

Twenty percent of any land-sale revenue would go toward the BLM’s administration costs, while the other 80 percent had to be used to buy private inholdings within BLM lands that contained "exceptional resources."

The act was based on a land disposal and acquisition mechanism in the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998, which was crafted to accommodate Las Vegas’ rapid expansion onto neighboring public lands.

But FLTFA’s profit scheme applied only to sellable lands identified before July 25, 2000. At that time, the BLM estimated it had 3.3 million acres of sellable land, but thanks to better inventories, its estimate has since shrunk to as low as 330,000 acres.

From 2001 to 2003, the BLM sold almost 11,000 acres under FLTFA.

Today, cities like Phoenix, Ariz., and St. George, Utah, are butting up against public lands, and the BLM is facing a $320 million budget reduction from last year.

At the same time, the agency is chipping away at a backlog of dated land-use plans, which gives it the opportunity to identify more disposable lands. Now, politically appointed staffers at the Interior Department want to give the BLM even greater incentive to do so.

In August, Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, who oversees the BLM, wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asking for legislative amendments to FLTFA that would encourage the BLM to sell off more land. She has asked Congress to make the identification and selling of disposable land an ongoing process, rather than one limited to land identified before the July 2000 cutoff date.

Twenty percent of any revenue would still go to the BLM’s administrative costs, but under Scarlett’s proposal, only 60 percent of the money would go toward land acquisition. The other 20 percent would go toward "conservation enhancement projects," to fund local projects such as riparian improvement or removing invasive weeds.

Abolishing the July 2000 deadline gives the BLM "the incentive to decide to designate (new) lands as disposable," says Johanna Wald, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Wald thinks this change could open the door for much more land to be added to the "for sale" list.

August 25, 2004

Al Dvorin, 81, Announcer for Presley

New York Times

Al Dvorin, the concert announcer who made the phrase "Elvis has left the building" famous, was killed in an auto accident in California on Sunday. He was 81.

Mr. Dvorin was thrown from the car he was riding in after it swerved off a desert road near Ivanpah, the California Highway Patrol said.

The night before, Mr. Dvorin performed his signature closing line at a Presley impersonator concert in California.

A former bandleader and talent agent in Chicago, Mr. Dvorin was with Presley from his early days as a performer and was on his last tour in 1977, the year he died.

The phrase that Mr. Dvorin made his signature was first uttered by other announcers early in Presley's career. It was intended to disperse audiences who lingered in hopes of an Elvis encore.

"Al made it his own with his particular style," said Todd Morgan, a spokesman with the Presley estate in Memphis. "He's the man when it comes to that saying."

His version was captured on many recordings of Presley's performances and has become a pop-culture catchphrase and punch line.

August 20, 2004

Woman pleads not guilty in trespassing case

By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise

Connie Connelly, who faces eviction from her home of 30 years in the Mojave National Preserve, appeared in a Barstow courtroom Friday where she pleaded not guilty to a charge of trespassing on federal land.

Part-time federal magistrate Stephen Miller scheduled a hearing in the case for October, after which a trial date could be set, Connelly said. If convicted, the 44-year-old woman could face up to six months in jail and a fine.

"Even though I've lived there all my life, I'm a trespasser," said Connelly, whose family moved to the rustic six-room home in 1966. The house, a converted general store, sits on five brushy acres near the northeastern edge of the preserve, about 23 miles from Primm, Nev.

Connelly, who cannot afford an attorney, was assigned a deputy federal public defender during Friday's hearing, held in a courtroom at a Barstow-area Marine Corps base.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment Friday.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said earlier this week that Connelly is living on the property illegally. Parks officials and prosecutors contend that Connelly's parents leased the land, now within the 1.6 million-acre preserve, but the lease expired when her mother died last year. Connelly's name is not on the lease.

Connelly and her supporters argue that her father, Don, bought the former Aztec Mining Company store in 1966, which he reopened as the Ivanpah General Store.

In 1976, the family moved about 100 miles to Newberry Springs when Connelly's mother became ill, but they returned about eight years later.

Although parks officials say Connelly does not own the property, they have offered to swap her home and its surrounding five acres for more than seven acres of desert land in Cadiz, about 75 miles south, she said.

But Connelly does not want to move from her home, which she shares with 11 dogs, a cat and a horse. She questions the quality of the well at the Cadiz site and says summers are milder at her current home, which sits at a higher elevation than the land being offered to her.

Home ownership challenged

After 30 years in the desert, she's fighting to stay

By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise

IVANPAH - Connie Connelly balanced on her haunches, drawing deeply from a cigarette as swollen thunderclouds tinged red by the setting sun swept over her remote home in the Mojave National Preserve.

A tumble of scrap lumber, rotting travel trailers and battered furniture surround her green-and-white house. As a freight train rumbled by on tracks just a few feet away, the locomotive's piercing whistle drew howls from some of Connelly's 11 dogs as they prowled her dusty corral.

For 30 years, Connelly has lived in a rustic six-room home, a converted general store on 5 brushy acres about 23 miles from the shimmering casinos of Primm, Nev.

"When you've been in a place this long, you grow roots," the 44-year-old woman said. "This isn't for every Joe out here. You either make it here or you don't. ... I believe in preserving the simple life."

But Connelly's lifestyle is careening toward a showdown with National Park Service officials who are seeking to evict her and end a land squabble that started nearly four decades ago when her family first moved to the desert.

Connelly is to appear today before a U.S. District Court magistrate in Barstow to answer a charge of trespassing on federal land. The brief hearing will mark the first salvo in a courtroom battle to determine if Connelly will be forced from the land she asserts her father, Don, purchased in 1966.

Connelly said parks officials contend her father leased but never bought the property.

Mary Martin, preserve superintendent, declined comment, directing inquires to federal prosecutors.

"She is there illegally," Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, said of Connelly. "She does not have permission to reside at that location."

Rights Expired

Mrozek said Connelly's parents and their neighbors in the sparsely populated area were allowed to continue living on the federal land when the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994.

Connelly's father died in 1990. And when her mother, Pauline, died last year, so did the family's right to live within the preserve, Mrozek said. Connelly's name is not on the lease.

Connelly, who says she cannot afford an attorney, faces up to six months in jail and a fine if convicted.

"We're not seeking to incarcerate her but that is a possibility," Mrozek said.

Just 8 when her family moved from Hemet to the desert, Connelly is fighting eviction with the help of newfound friend Jennifer Foster of Hesperia, co-founder of Public Lands for Public Use, a recreationalist organization aimed at keeping government lands open to equestrians, hunters and other outdoors enthusiasts.

They say the Connelly family's purchase of the former Aztec Mining Company store in 1966 immediately sparked a dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management, who challenged his ownership of the property. To prove his case, Connelly's father gave his paperwork, including a deed, to the BLM, which lost the file, Foster said.

The deed apparently was never recorded, and Connelly's father signed a lease agreement with BLM in 1968, Foster said.

"People are going to wonder why she would want to stay out there. A woman. Alone. The nearest neighbor a quarter-mile away," Foster said, her voice choked with emotion. "You have to remember, it's all she's known."

Although parks officials contend Connelly's family never owned the land, they have offered to swap her home and its surrounding 5 acres for more than 7 acres of desert land in Cadiz, about 75 miles south.

But Connelly and Foster question the quality of the well at the Cadiz site, where they say summers are significantly hotter because that property sits at a lower elevation than Connelly's house.

"It's about 10 miles from Hell," Foster said.

A Simple Life

Connelly, Ivanpah's sole resident, supports herself as an artist fashioning decorative wood, furniture, beadwork and other crafts. She says she is content with her simple life in the sparsely furnished desert home she shares with her dogs, one cat and a horse.

With her well broken, she drives 17 miles to Nipton every other day to fill a pair of blue plastic 55-gallon drums with water for her and her animals. Her old Ford pickup carries her 33 miles to Searchlight, Nev., for feed and supplies.

Oil lamps light her house at night. Connelly occasionally switches on a portable generator if she wants to watch a movie. Her phone is attached to a telephone pole outside. Until recently, she had to shimmy up the pole to use the phone.

Her furniture, she joked, bears dents and divots from errant shovel strikes intended for rattlesnakes that slithered into her house.

Connelly's house in years past was considered part of Leestock, a town of about 100 residents that sprung up at a railroad stop where ranchers loaded cattle onto trains.

"It was like the Old West out here. Time pretty much stood at a standstill," recalled Connelly, whose weathered eyes convey a distant expression. But, at a friendly jibe, she breaks into laughter, revealing a warm smile.

Her father, a former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy turned part-time prospector, kept the general store open, selling food, beer and sundries. From the front porch, the family could see the trailers that made up the famed Chicken Ranch brothel about six miles down a nearby dirt road.

"Every night, we had the miners down playing cards and talking," she said. Train engineers would stop to chat as they waited for another locomotive to pass.

Bats, owls, nighthawks and coyotes are now Connelly's neighbors. Age and weather have reduced the other buildings of Leestock to rubble. Connelly's not sure why her dad moved his family to the remote desert.

"When I was small, I asked him once when he went prospecting, how did he pick a spot. And he said you just kind of get a feeling about a place," Connelly said. In the nearby corral, the breeze stirred a set of wind chimes created from long lengths of old pipe.

In 1976, the family moved about 100 miles to Newberry Springs when Connelly's mother began suffering dementia. They returned eight years later and had to chase squatters off the land.
Last year, parks rangers began stopping by, telling her and her mother that they had to leave, Connelly said.

Foster met Connelly when the Ivanpah woman called her in January, seeking help. In just seven months, the two women have become close friends.

"Connie came into my life for a reason," Foster said. "She's a special person. ... Within her still lies that pioneer spirit."

Foster and her husband, Ken, have sought help for Connelly from San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus' office and are trying to find her a lawyer.

If evicted, Connelly figures she will move to Wyoming. She holds little hope for her future.

"They'll undoubtedly get me out of here, one way or the other. It saddens the heart."

August 17, 2004

SCI Facilitates National Park Service and California Department of Fish & Game Meeting

Tucson, Ariz., Aug. 17, 2004 - Safari Club International (SCI) organized a collaborative meeting between the National Park Service (NPS) and the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) to discuss the important issue of maintaining water sources that are of critical importance for several species of wildlife in the Mojave National Preserve (Preserve).

“After several years of efforts by SCI on behalf of concerned California sportsmen, SCI was pleased to organize a meeting of this magnitude and be able to put the issue of water for Mojave wildlife closer to reality,” said John R. Monson, SCI president. “Bringing the policy makers together and making decisions to facilitate the reinstatement of traditional water sources to the Mojave by organizations like SCI is a win-win for wildlife. We feel the meeting was very productive and we are looking forward to solid results. SCI has taken the lead on this mission through the work of Dennis Anderson, SCI vice president and California legislative coordinator, and we hope to see a completed MOU between the parties no later September 15, 2004.”

"The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service have recently demonstrated the desire to work cooperatively with the California Department of Fish and Game on wildlife management on the Mojave National Preserve,” said Paul Hoffman deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “Working together to maintain water for wildlife in a desert environment is consistent with Secretary Norton's 4Cs -- cooperation, consultation and communication, all in the service of conservation. Moreover, the California Desert Protection Act clearly gives DFG jurisdiction over wildlife management on the Preserve. We will all work together to ensure that wildlife benefits and park resources are not impaired as a result of any of these activities."

The groundbreaking meeting was held August 10, 2004, when SCI invited key officials from the two agencies together at the DFG offices in Ontario, California and then moderated the meeting to enable NPS and DFG to discuss and overcome the obstacles they had encountered in the effort to maintain wildlife water development systems throughout the Preserve. In this meeting, the following innovative points were agreed upon:

1) DFG and NPS will work together on creating a water guzzler management procedural manual. This list will contain the locations of all guzzlers and will identify those that exist in wilderness and non-wilderness areas of the Preserve. In addition, the manual will designate those guzzlers that lie inside and outside of designated desert tortoise habitat. For each category of guzzler, the manual will establish guidelines for access to and ongoing maintenance and restoration of the water sources. The manual will help officials and private groups save valuable time and resources that they intend to devote to insuring continued availability of necessary water sources for the wildlife of the Preserve.

2) DFG will immediately submit a proposal to the NPS to restore at least 12 big game guzzlers or wells in the eastern part of the Preserve, near the Lanfair Valley area. These wells were removed by ranchers who sold their ranches and grazing allotments to the Preserve, leaving the area devoid of much of the water that wildlife has relied upon for decades to survive. The NPS agreed to review the proposal without delay.

3) This collaboration to prepare guidelines will not prevent work from continuing in the interim period nor will it prohibit the volunteer efforts of organizations like SCI.

At this time, SCI welcomes input from other organizations and individuals throughout the region who, like SCI, seek to assist in the effort to maintain water for wildlife within the Mojave National Preserve. If there are any questions, please contact Ken Schwartz in SCI’s Washington, D.C. office at

Safari Club International is the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide. This chapter driven, nonprofit association is a tireless advocate for the world’s 45 million sportsmen and sportswomen, who, through legal hunting, annually drive more than $1.7 billion in funding to conserve all wild species. For more information, call 520-620-1220 or visit

Rick Parsons

August 7, 2004

Off-Roading Loses Its Way

Los Angeles Times

Motorized off-road vehicles, from inexpensive dirt bikes to $100,000 Hummers, provide a sort of unfettered outdoor thrill ride, often in competitive mode. Groups representing off-roaders say their numbers now top 2 million. Families head out to the deserts or mountains for an activity that keeps even the teenagers in the family. For others it's a guy thing, with big toys and great scenery.

The knobby-tired vehicles also rip into wild areas, tearing up native plants and sometimes stripping soil to bedrock. Their engines shred the peace of hikers and campers and frighten animals into remote corners. The question is whether it's still possible to balance motorized fun and environmental preservation.

Many off-roaders spurn the park roads — after all, the name of the pursuit is off-road — to carve an estimated 60,000 miles of renegade trails in national forests. Last month, rangers in Northern California closed 300 acres of the Eldorado National Forest because human feces deposited by off-roaders were a public health hazard.

Off-roaders' visits to national forests have increased sevenfold in less than 30 years, and public land managers haven't kept up. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service finally gave official recognition to the damage caused by off-roading and proposed a rule to keep the vehicles on designated trails.

It was a start, but a weak one. Simple as the task sounds, the Forest Service first must inventory and map existing roads — both official ones and those blazed by off-roaders — then decide which to leave open. Many off-roaders applaud this as well; those who want to do the right thing have little way of knowing which trails are sanctioned or environmentally wise. But the Forest Service has no money for the task and has set itself no deadline. By contrast, California last year funded a five-year effort, joined by conservationists and responsible off-roaders, to help the Forest Service map routes in the state's national forests. But preserving national forest land shouldn't be the states' burden.

The attitude of many off-roaders is that, as their numbers grow, they deserve more trails and access within the finite acreage of state and federal lands. The Bureau of Land Management wrongly complied last month, giving more than 1.3 million acres and 90% of the trails in the northern and eastern Mojave Desert, home to the endangered California desert tortoise. Off-roaders say they'll police themselves. Such self-regulation was a failure in the the Eldorado forest.

Given the toll of off-roading on public resources, this pastime is ripe for serious regulation, including lids on unmuffled noise, along with fees that reflect what off-roading costs the public. Right now, an off-roader pays the same $5 per day as a hiker to use a national forest in Southern California. A rule limiting riders to designated routes will mean nothing if the financially emaciated Forest Service lacks the staff to enforce it.

July 29, 2004


San Bernardino Sun

Goffs -- Where there is water in the desert, there is abundant wildlife. Shrikes are catching grasshoppers. You can hear the haunting calls of roadrunners. Coveys of Gambel's quail herd their young under palo verdes to avoid Cooper's hawks.

Where there is no water, the desert is stark. For miles and miles you will see only the animals that don't need water every day to survive the 100-plus degree heat that beats down here throughout the summer. There are only a few of those. Water is desert wildlife's life blood.

Since taking over the East Mojave, the National Park Service has removed more than 100 water sources scattered all over the vast preserve, creating a wildlife wasteland where wildlife once flourished. Most of the water removal has occurred over the past two years as ranchers who have sold their properties have been forced to remove windmills and stock tanks.

The elimination of the water sources was done -- many of us feel -- in direct violation of the preserve's own management plan that mandates that any removal of water be evaluated for its impacts before it is removed. That includes the cattle water that has been used by wildlife for more than 100 years in some cases.

Many of us feel -- after hours of meetings and discussions with preserve management staff -- that the rush to remove water from the preserve has become a vendetta against the hunter-conservation groups who have battled the removal every step of the way.

Hunter groups have argued that the cattle water and the facilities to maintain it should be preserved for two reasons: For its historical importance as part of the cultural history of the preserve, which the park is also supposed to protect, and the incredible value this water has for the majority of the preserve's wildlife.

With activist Cliff McDonald of Needles, I visited 11 windmills and water tanks that had been functioning one to two years ago in the eastern part of the preserve. They were all dry Tuesday and mostly devoid of wildlife.

At one set of windmills, one of the tanks still had some wet soil and perhaps a small puddle of water under a growth of tules. There were at least three large coveys of quail -- 100 to 150 birds -- around the tank. One of the coveys had a hen bird with six chicks. Those chicks were destined to die as the water dried up, and perhaps the adults, too. The nearest water was more than four miles away.

The mind-set that will write a death warrant for huge numbers of wildlife in its haste to "return the desert to its natural state," has to be questioned in its ethics and its reading of the preserve's management plan.

We also visited six small-game guzzlers (which some park staff say they would like to remove) and natural springs, which had plenty of water. The contrast between what we saw near the water and where there once was water was dramatic. The difference in wildlife was the difference between a full and an empty glass of water.

It looks like a park service goal is to kill native wildlife and destroy a major piece of human history of the preserve. Did they document the impact water removal would have on the preserve's wildlife? Were the windmills and water pipelines evaluated for their historical value?

We need a change in the management at the Mojave National Preserve, or even the National Park Service, if this is how wildlife and historical resources are going to be "protected" under this watch. The actions taken are wrong and wrong-headed, and it's time for a change.

Jim Matthews is a freelance writer. His column appears on Thursdays. Readers may write to him at 399 North D Street, San Bernardino, CA 92401, phone at (909) 887-3444 or fax to (909) 887-8180. or e-mail

July 28, 2004

HOT PROPERTIES: Private 'Inholdings' in Federal Preserves

by Jim Carlton
The Wall Street Journal

Schofield, Colo. -- Flanked by snow-capped peaks and straddling valleys of spruce, fir and aspen, the wilderness area know as the High Elk Corridor offers scenery of unsurpassed splendor. Accessible by a four-wheel-drive-only road, the land is almost all government-owned, seemingly untouched except by the forces of nature -- until a traveler comes upon a row of new log cabins, smack in the middle of federal wilderness.

"This is the beginning of back-country sprawl," says Will Rogers, staring at the cabins from a dust-covered van. Mr. Rogers is president of the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based group that is trying to stop this kind of development inside federal wilderness and other public lands. The problem is that the cabins are perfectly legal.

Partly to help settle the frontier, an 1872 federal mining law created "inholdings" -- tracts of private property situated in the middle of national forests or other public land -- thousands of which are sprinkled throughout the vast public lands of the American West.

Many of the properties, which range in size from 10 acres to 2,000 acres or more, have been passed down from generation to generation, as public lands have grown up around them. Most of the inholdings are so remote they were long deemed unfeasible for major development. But in the past few years, as real-estate prices began ratcheting up as hordes of city dwellers started pursuing mountain retreats, some of the inholdings have become valuable properties.

In many cases, there are few restrictions on the sites, which have guaranteed access through public land by road. Colorado law, which governs the privately owned inholdings in the state, allows up to one building per mining claim, with the average claim handed out in the 1800s amounting to about 10 acres. Conservationists say that even one house per 10 acres could equate to hundreds of homes in a pristine area.

In California, a development of multimillion-dollar homes has sprung up on an inholding inside the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Called Mirada Estates, the development entails about 109 home sites on about 140 acres of private land.

To prevent a similar development in the High Elk Corridor, the Trust for Public Land so far has helped acquire about 1,000 acres of about 6,000 acres of private inholdings and hopes to buy up about 1,500 acres more.

Not everyone thinks development is a bad thing, though. Here in the High Elk, for instance, a handful of longtime property owners are holding out against the conservation push. The eight or so houses they and others have built are mostly modest, one- and two-story log cabins that the owners constructed as summer-time mountain retreats. No one has sold out to a big developer, so far, although some other property owners have plans to add cabins on their tracts as well.

One reason for their reluctance is an emotional pull to the land. For example, Fred Murray, a 69-year-old geologist from Tulsa, Okla., says he won't part with his approximately three acres of lots in one valley because the land has been in his family for nearly a century. His is one of the cabins that have sprung up there over the past 10 years, and he has also pushed for Gunnison County officials to pave the road from Crested Butte to make access easier. "They [the conservationists] are trying to push people like us out," says Mr. Murray, who has been coming to his family's wooded property in the High Elk since a toddler.

But Trust for Public Land officials say they fear too much cabin building, and road upgrading, would pave the way for bigger development, such as multimillion-dollar "ranchettes" that would ruin the wild nature of the corridor. So they are following the strategy, as they have around Yellowstone and other places around the West, of buying land to later sell back to the federal government.

In so doing, the trust has teamed with an unlikely partner, a ski resort, among others. In 1997, the Crested Butte Mountain Resort -- which recently changed ownership -- had joined with two local conservation outfits, the Crested Butte Land Trust and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, to buy nearly half of the 106 buildable lots in Schofield, an 1800s mining camp that is now a ghost town. Previously, the resort had been criticized by environmentalists for its development around Crested Butte, itself a former mining town.

Part of the resort's concern is economic, because places like the High Elk are a major tourist attraction. Besides the scenery, the area is historically significant, having hosted not only legions of pick-and-shovel miners but also former President Ulysses S. Grant.

"If we started losing some of those special areas like the High Elk, it could really dry up our tourism economy," says Jim Starr, a Gunnison County commissioner who sits on the board of the Crested Butte Land Trust.

Indeed, Bill and Beverly Selby from Rogers, Ark., break their red Jeep after four-wheeling down a notoriously tough pass known as the "Devil's Punchbowl," and express shock at the prospect of the surrounding High Elk being bulldozed over. "If we could vote against development here, we would," says Mrs. Selby, who runs an embroidery shop with her husband.

By themselves, the local preservation groups around Crested Butte say they didn't have the financial wherewithal to protect the High Elk, which contains millions of dollars of inholdings. That changed, though, after a chance vacation visit to Crested Butte in 1999 by a Denver resident named Doug Robotham.

At the time, Mr. Robotham had recently been appointed head of Trust for Public Land's Colorado office, and recalls David Baxter, a friend with the Crested Butte Land Trust telling him about the threat to the High Elk. Having backpacked in the area as a boy, Mr. Robotham says he was astonished to find cabins when he hiked back out to investigate. "So I said, 'Let's look at conserving this whole valley,'" Mr. Robotham recalls, kicking a rock as he walks down a dirt road that winds through one of the valleys.

The High Elk was far more complex, though, than most of the 250 or so inholding transactions the trust negotiates each year. With about 260 property owners, the trust faced having to negotiate potentially dozens of deals. So the trust, in 2000, used digital mapping to focus on the lots they considered the most likely to be developed, because of their terrain and other factors.

In all, the groups think they will need about $6.5 million to make all their acquisitions. So far, they have raised about $3 million from public and private sources, and are using the money to persuade owners to part with their properties. Some have needed little convincing, because, they, too, want the land preserved.

"It was the family's desire to keep the land pristine," Judy J. McGill, a real-estate broker in nearby Crested Butte, Colo., says of a Texas-based family's decision to let her sell 40 acres of High Elk land to the trust for $125,000.

Federal land managers say they welcome such deal making as a way to help keep the backcountry wild. U. S. Forest Service officials, for example, say they are long wanted to protect the High Elk, in part, because the corridor sits between two wilderness areas: The Raggeds and Maroon Bells-Snowmass. Foresters worry that too much development could disrupt wildlife migration patterns, such as for the plentiful elk, as well as soil clear-running streams.

But the government hasn't had the time or resources to try negotiating for the multitude of land transfers needed here. "They [the Land Trust for Public Land] really did us a huge favor," says Martha Ketelle, supervisor of the local White River National Forest, "in terms of taking on this project."