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04/05/2011

Across California: A 530-Mile Trek from the Colorado River to the Pacific

Cal In 1826, my much-removed cousin Jedediah Smith, a 27-year-old fur trapper, led a band of 16 men from Utah to California, which was then part of Mexico. Now, 186 years later, and 47 years older than he was, I will be retracing part of Smith's route -- the part where he reached the nearly dry Mojave River. He was actually looking for the mythical Buenaventura River, which supposedly would connect the interior of North America to the Pacific Ocean, serving as a vein for commerce. Of course he never found it. My goal is different: I'll be looking to see how the different ecoregions from the eastern Mojave Desert across the mountains to the Pacific connect with each other.

Cousin Jedediah had only the sketchiest of maps, if any, whereas my companions and I will have almost too much information, thanks to things like GPS, topographic maps, and Google Earth. Thousands of articles, scientific papers, and books describe the areas I plan to cross. You can drive from the start to finish in a long day. So why walk it? Aside from the personal accomplishment, my larger purpose is to show that someone can walk across the heart of California on public and conservancy land, avoiding roads and highways, over an area that still looks natural. And it is through this personal connection with the land, during a two-month, 530-mile trek, that I hope to highlight the necessity of preserving and protecting what wildness remains. Not only that: If the habitats within this great wildness become cordoned off and isolated, they will eventually die of starvation.

That starvation will come about when connections are severed. For example, biologists have told me that the San Joaquin Valley kit fox population on the Carrizo Plain National Monument -- through which I'll pass -- could die out unless it maintains connections with populations to the north and south. Another example: Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park are dying off due to excessive summer heat; meanwhile, other groves of these picturesque spiny plants are extending west of the hottest deserts.

The Route

Beginning at the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada, on March 20, four of us will cross the Dead Mountains and head for Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve, which we'll reach in six days. Spencer Berman and Stacy Goss will leave the trek there. Four days later, Tom Landis and I will be at the strangely-named Zzyzx, now a center for desert studies, where Tom's wife Madeleine will join us.

Eventually, backed up by new supplies from my wife Letty, we'll reach the Pacific Crest Trail at Jawbone Canyon and take it south to the Tejon Ranch, probably the most vital ecological link between the desert, Sierra, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California mountains and valleys. With kind permission we'll cross the Ranch and enter the Wind Wolves Preserve, which also greatly enhances connectivity among ecoregions. Then we're on to Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the Carrizo Ecological Reserve, and the Los Padres National Forest. We'll reach the Pacific in Morro Bay on May 1 or 4 ... or whenever we get there.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board, represents the Chapter to the national organization, and serves as a spokesperson for the Chapter on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. So, why is he doing this?

"To show that someone can walk across the heart of California on public and conservancy land, avoiding roads and highways, over an area that still looks natural," he says. "And it is through this personal connection with the land, during a two-month journey, that I hope to highlight the necessity of preserving and protecting what wildness remains. If the habitats within this great wildness become cordoned off and isolated, they will eventually die of starvation."

Republished from Sierra Club Explore

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