About forty members of the public, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) representatives, and Desert Advisory Council (DAC) members met early on Friday morning, the 20th of April, to take a tour of the El Paso Mountains and Jawbone Canyon. The Desert Advisory Council advises the BLM on the management of the nearly 11 million acres which comprise the California Desert District. To be sure that they have an accurate knowledge of the areas on which they are advising the DAC periodically takes tours of various areas of interest, in this case with the BLM leading the tour in conjunction with Friends of Jawbone. For DAC Members it was a chance to see the backroads of the El Paso Mountains and Jawbone Canyon regions. For the public it was a unique opportunity to see the DAC and BLM in action and witness first hand the areas being affected by the WEMO act and various conservation projects.
The tour started in the El Paso Mountains, where car suspensions were given a good workout along Mesquite Canyon road as the group travelled to a wide overlook above upper Last Chance Canyon. It was already warm when everyone clambered out of their cars to stand beneath a pristine sky and hear BLM's Craig Beck discuss the future of the area. The tour then wended its way at a leisurely pace through the mountains and down a wash, past the turn-off to Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel and within sight of the Holly Ash Mine, stopping a few times to stretch legs and explore areas of historic interest. Ed Waldheim, President of Friends of Jawbone, proudly pointed out historic sites which the non-profit now protect and restore.
Lunch and cold drinks were had in the newly expanded Jawbone Visitor Center. While everyone ate, BLM and Friends of Jawbone got a chance to highlight their work in the area and show-off what is truly a remarkable (and productive) partnership between a government agency and a locally-founded-and-run non-profit group. Ed Waldheim took the opportunity to show the miles of trail and acres of restoration, illustrating the hard work his crew does on the trails not only in Jawbone Canyon, but in the Rand mountains and the El Paso mountains as well.
Randy Banis gave an illuminating presentation on the various electronic tools that have been made available to help Friends of Jawbone and BLM organize their work in the field. His presentation also included a brief introduction the Friends of Jawbone's OwlsheadGPS Project, which makes OHV trail information available for download onto GPS devices and home computers. BLM's Paul Rodrigues, was also on-hand to give a brief talk on the current state of renewable energy development in the area and its impact on the local landscape.
After lunch the tour went into Jawbone Canyon and wound its way through the mountains. There were two stops--once at a rocky overlook above Dove Spring, and a second time at the place where Pacific Crest Trail crosses SC103-- which gave tour members a chance to see first hand how successful the restoration work in that area has been. Members of the public were not disappointed to see how their green sticker fees were being put to use: mountains once honey-combed with illegal trails now looked well managed. One member of the group couldn’t help but point out the remarkable plant diversity the area showed: amazing given that it is used both by ranchers for cattle grazing and by OHV riders.
The final stops of the day were in Kelso Valley where the caravan pulled into the lush Sageland Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary where Keith Axelson played host to the group beneath the green canopy of trees. Birds were hard at the business of spring, flying in and out of bird houses laden with twigs and grass to build nests or else singing beautifully in an attempt to attract a mate.
The day concluded at the Onyx Store where the tour members were treated to BBQ and a chance to gossip about the days events. Dinner was hosted by DAC member Richard Rudnick of the near-by Onyx Ranch with help from several of his family, friends and neighbors.
BLM's Craig Beck talks to the group at a wide overlook above upper Last Chance Canyon.
President of Friends of Jawbone, Ed Waldheim, gives some of the restoration numbers.
Randy Banis gives a brief introduction to Friends of Jawbone's OwlsheadGPS Project.
BLM's Paul Rodrigues discusses the current state of renewable energy development in the area.
On the road again: The tour makes its way up Jawbone Canyon.
Ed Waldheim points out restoration areas along SC103.
Craig Beck introduces Keith Axelson to the group during their stop at Sageland Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary.