Black Rock Symposium January 20, 2017

Statistics can help us form a mental image about a subject, but they never capture the beauty and magic of a desert landscape.

Statistics work, instead, on the analytical part of our mind.

Such are some of the numbers associated with the Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park.

Three Park Service officials gave a statistical view of these national treasures January 20 as part of the first of the year Black Rock Symposium, an event chaired by Jeff Cummings, superintendent and president of the Copper Bell Center.

The presentation can soon be viewed on the Desert Institute’s YouTube site

Todd Suess, Mojave National Preserve Superintendent

The Preserve’s Superintendent, Todd Suess, noted his responsibility covers 1.6 million acres, and an added 20,000 acres incorporating the Castle Mountains.

Suess noted the Preserve was created in 1994 and has not seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors compared to the two nearby national parks, one to the South and the other to the north.

Suess noted that the Preserve has 165 miles of paved roads which were “inherited” from San Bernardino County two years ago, but that he has only a three-person road crew to maintain them.

There are also 68 miles of maintained dirt roads, and he must watch over in the Preserve with only a $6.5 million annual budget.

He also emphasized that the Preserve has one major issue that his employees must concern themselves; many visitors “unfortunately” use the Preserve as a short cut to Las Vegas.

“It really isn’t that much of a time savings,” he said. “It only cuts off about 10 minutes.” He added that he wished people, hell bent on getting to Las Vegas, would take another route, either stay on the 15 or 40 because the average speed on Preserve roads by autos headed for Vegas is 80 mph. Some travelers have been clocked at 100 mph, he said.

To the south of the Preserve, and in contrast to the Preserve’s rather static visitor numbers is Joshua Tree National Park.

In 1990 JTNP Superintendent David Smith reported had about one million visitors. Now that number has swelled to 2.5 million, creating a problem he referred to as “carrying capacity,” or the number of people who can see and tour the Park without leaving a damaging effect on the environment.

Kelso Depot Visitor Center

He added that he encouraged people to go to the Preserve and enjoy the raw desert vistas there.

He noted that the Park once served as home to some 15 different Native American tribes, and their former presence is only hinted at today.

Statistics about money, our normal way of measuring life, also were shared.  He and the other NPS officials said that the federal lands are an “economic engine” for the community, with somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of all visitors to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley making a trip to the Park as part of their itinerary.

The Park is only half the size of the Preserve, with some 800,000 acres, slightly smaller than the state of Delaware, he noted.

Statistics concerning Death Valley National Park also were shared by Death Valley National Park Resource Division Chief Josh Hoines. He focused on a series of storms that washed out highways and caused heavy damage to Scotty’s Castle, damages that require some $48 million to restore the famous landmark.

His responsibility covers 3.4 million acres, with 1200 miles of roads, 23 different mountain ranges. Some 1.3 million visitors visit Death Valley every year, he reported.

There was one thing upon which all three park officials agreed — the Kelso train depot in the middle of the Preserve is the “best visitor center” in the Southern California desert, a man-made wonder everyone should see and tour.

We all should slow down when heading for this national treasure, and enjoy the vast desert on our way there, or to other spots.