To inspire action for greater justice and sustainability
To inspire action for greater justice and sustainability
TEN POINTS OF INSPIRATION IN AND AROUND THE NATIONAL PARKS OF CALIFORNIA'S MOJAVE DESERT
As in all the regions chosen for Ten Points of Inspiration, producing a booklet will be the first step in a set of activities chosen in consultation with what we call the Natural Neighbors, the public agencies responsible for nature conservation and historic preservation in the region along with museums, zoos, botanic gardens, and similar institutions.
The Ten Points of Inspiration in this volume are in and around three large national parks.
On the map below they can be located by the numbers placed on them: Death Valley National Park (2,3,4), Mojave National Preserve (5,6,7), and Joshua Tree National Park (9). See the second, circular map below for an explanation of other jurisdictions.
On the Mojave, the Ten Points of Inspiration* are the night sky above, an oasis, an isolated mountain range, cabinets full of well-preserved dead animals (or rather the places where the specimens came from), a house, a highway, a river, a campsite, an unlikely concert venue, and massive areas of wild desert land.
The people are authors of books, a composer of symphonic music, Californio rancheros, gold-seekers, political activists, scientists, innkeepers, and others.
Among the ideas they stand for are moral courage, human rights, fairness and harmony among people, valuing and conserving nature, exploration, understanding that emotion can be just as important as reason in human behavior, and realizing that everyone and everything is interconnected.
Publication is planned for early 2023
In this series we tell stories about places we call Points of Inspiration that can serve as beacons to inspire people to do whatever they can for greater justice and sustainability. The inspiration can take many forms and isn’t always obvious. Many examples could be given; here are just a few:
The small group of conservation volunteers who succeeded in creating the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve by going about their task systematically, sticking with it for decades, and refusing to be discouraged by setbacks.
Standing up for human rights
Mary Austin (profile below) never forgetting how people were mistreated in the towns where she lived in the Owens Valley — women, Indians, immigrants, miners —and using the fame she gained as an author to press for human rights in books, articles, and public lectures.
Being kind to strangers
The López family of Californio rancheros showing “kind acts and great good will” to the ‘49ers from the Midwest who stumbled into their place after a 250-mile walk from Death Valley.
Thinking long term
Joseph Grinnell writing in 1910 that the value of his detailed surveys of California’s natural world would not “be realized until the lapse of many years, possibly a century.”
Using personal wealth for public benefit
The donor who supported Joseph Grinnell’s work with anonymous gifts of millions of dollars over forty years, and the "socialite" who led and funded the campaign to create what became Joshua Tree National Park.
*The ten essays are: (1) The desert at night, (2) Mary Austin’s Home, (3) Where the lost Death Valley ‘49ers camped and where they found help, (4) The “Death Valley Suite,” (5) The Mojave National Preserve, (6) The Granite Mountains Desert Reserve, (7) Grinnell’s surveys on the desert, (8) The Mother Road: Route 66, (9) Joshua Tree National Park and the Oasis of Mara, (10) The Colorado River. Four "outliers" are profiled: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona; California Botanic Garden, Claremont; Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Marino; and The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Palm Desert.
THE MOJAVE'S MAZE OF JURISDICTIONS. The map at right gives an idea of the complexity of jurisdictions on the Mojave Desert. The large Grey areas are the national parks; from top to bottom: The southeast corner of Death Valley National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park. Pink areas are military reservations: The Army's Fort Irwin to the north and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center to the south. Areas within dark red lines are national monuments. Other areas are: Yellow, U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Dark green, wilderness areas on BLM or U.S. Forest Service lands. Orange, Indian reservations. Blue-green, on right edge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Light green, bottom left, USFS. This is a generalized map. Larger-scale maps will show towns, privately owned lands including inholdings within protected areas, and places managed by the state or local governments.
Mary Austin's Home
253 Market Street, Independence, Inyo County. Private residence; do not disturb occupants. Nearby at 155 N. Grant Street, is the Eastern California Museum.
A writer best known for The Land of Little Rain, about people and nature in the Owens Valley, Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934) was also an activist who championed women’s rights and better treatment of Native Americans, immigrants, and small-scale farmers.
She and her husband Stafford Wallace Austin designed and built the house in
Independence (at right) and lived in it from 1892 to 1903. There and in other small towns where they lived in the Owens Valley, Mary was considered eccentric for visiting with Indian women who taught her how to weave baskets and with Mexican women who showed her how to cook with chile peppers. She would sit and talk with men who suffered from lead poisoning, “miners’ rot.” Once she was called on by a delegation of local white matrons who asked her why she took part in Indian dances and, worse, why she gave a cake to a Chinese immigrant laundryman for Chinese New Year.
THE GRABEN: The Owens Valley and the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada, looking southwest from the Inyo Mountains. The Owens, 120 miles long, is the deepest valley in the United States. In geological terms it is a graben, a valley with a distinct escarpment on each side caused by the displacement of a block of land downward between two parallel faults. From a biological standpoint, the Owens Valley south of the Tinemaha Reservoir (pictured) can be considered part of the Mojave Desert.
Mary Austin (photo is from 1900) wrote more than thirty books. In California Classics (1971) the UCLA Librarian and literary critic Lawrence Clark Powell admires Austin’s life and work but says her first book, The Land of Little Rain (1903) is her best, “a perfect conjunction of life, landscape, and literature.” In a 1950 edition illustrated with his photographs Ansel Adams comments: “No writing to my knowledge conveys so much of the spirit of earth and sky, of plants and people, of storm and the desolation of majestic wastes, of tender, intimate beauty, as does The Land of Little Rain.” Here is a key passage from the book:
“If one is inclined to wonder at first how so many dwellers came to be in the loneliest land that ever came out of God's hands, what they do there and why stay, one does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land lays such a hold on the affections. The rainbow hills, the tender bluish mists, the luminous radiance of the spring, have the lotus charm. They trick the sense of time, so that once inhabiting there you always mean to go away without quite realizing that you have not done it.”
Austin did go away from that “long brown land,” but what she saw, heard, and felt there never left her. In 1905 she parted from her husband and lived in the artists’ colony in Carmel, in New York, Paris, London, and elsewhere, finally settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She befriended writers like Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Rebecca West, George Bernard Shaw, and Joseph Conrad. She was close to Lou Hoover and her husband the future President Herbert Hoover.
She became one of the leading public intellectuals of her time. In books, articles, and public lectures she advocated women’s suffrage, stood up for the rights of Native Americans and immigrants, and opposed the taking of Owens Valley water by the City of Los Angeles. In Mary Austin and the American West (2008) Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson conclude that she believed all the ills of the world could be cured.
Mary Hunter Austin deserves to be better remembered, for her activism as well as her writing.
MOUNT MARY AUSTIN: One of the few mountains in the Sierra Nevada named for a woman is Mount Mary Austin, a 13,051-foot peak eight miles west of Independence. Its neighbors include peaks named after such other important California cultural figures as Cedric Wright, who was Ansel Adam’s photography mentor and best friend, and William Keith, landscape painter and friend of fellow Scot John Muir.
Natural Neighbors, InterEnvironment Institute
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