May 18, 2017

Capturing the Mojave Desert

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

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

by MATT KETTMANN
Santa Barbara Independent


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

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

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2017

Animal Predatory Behavior Decreases Near Desert Wind Turbines, Study Finds

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

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

By Patch CA (Patch Staff)
Patch Banning


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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