Welcome Castle Mountains National Monument to the National Park System

Castle Mountains National Monument is the newest national park. Photo Credit: whitehouse.gov
Castle Mountains National Monument is the newest national park. Photo Credit: whitehouse.gov

On Friday February 12, 2016, President Obama visited Palm Springs, California to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate three new national monuments in California’s Mojave Desert.

Two of those new national monuments, the Mojave Trails National Monument and the Sand to Snow National Monument will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System.  Both of them are “gap-filling” monuments.  The Mojave Trails National Monument forms a U-shaped ring around the southern edges of the existing Mojave National Preserve in California, as well as protects a corridor connecting Mojave National Preserve to its more-famous cousin, Joshua Tree National Park.   The Sand to Snow National Monument preserves most of the land in a corridor connecting the western end of Joshua Tree National Park to the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which President Obama himself proclaimed in 2014.

The third, Castle Mountains National Monument, becomes the newest unit of the National Park System, bringing the total number of national parks to 410.   According to reporting in The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, when Mojave National Preserve was first created in 1994, Senator Diane Feinstein ensured that the Castle Mountains were excluded from the then-new national park in order to protect gold mining interests in the area.  Two decades later, Senator Feinstein began championing a new proposal to expand the protected areas of the Mojave Desert, including creating the two aforementioned national monuments.  This proposal also called for bringing most of the Castle Mountains into the fold of Mojave National Preserve, leaving a much-smaller parcel of land outside the park boundaries to accommodate the Hart Gold Mine.   This map shows how Castle Mountains National Monument “fills the gap” inside Mojave National Preserve,  and how the Hart Gold Mine will remain a “doughnut hole” (with an access road) inside Castle Mountains. After several years of unsuccessfully trying to get her Mojave Desert protection bill through the normal legislative process in Congress, she turned to President Obama and the Antiquities Act.

Another view of the newest national park. Photo Credit: whitehouse.gov
Another view of the newest national park. Despite the name, the new park includes both the namesake Castle Mountains, as well as surrounding desert areas that partially “fill the gap” In the existing borders of Mojave National Preserve.  Photo Credit: whitehouse.gov

So in some ways, Castle Mountains National Monument is an “accidental national park.” Since the President of the United States does not have the authority to add new land to an existing national park, but does have the authority to create a new national park using the Antiquities Act.  So if the Castle Mountains had been included in the original Mojave National Preserve in 1994, or even if the Castle Mountains had been added to Mojave National Preserve by Congress at any time over the last four years, there’s probably one less national park, and I’m probably not writing this post.

Still, the Castle Mountains do seem to have legitimately beautiful scenery – as some of the publicity shots being released with the new national monument designation amply demonstrate.  Additionally, the Castle Mountains will also have the advantage of branding.  After all, who wouldn’t want to go hiking in a place with a name like “Castle Mountains National Monument?”  The very name makes it sound like a place to find an adventure.

The historic Kelso Depot Visitor Center in Mojave National Preserve will likely be the closest information point for Castle Mountains National Monument. Photo from 2007.
The historic Kelso Depot Visitor Center in Mojave National Preserve will likely be the closest information point for Castle Mountains National Monument. Photo from 2007.

For the immediate, future, however, the Castle Mountains will likely remain relatively difficult to visit.   Just reaching the boundaries of the new national park will require travelling around 10 miles down remote dirt roads.   It remains to be seen if the National Park Service will pursue any kind of visitor facilities in this new park, such as establishing any permanent hiking trails, let alone improving a road into the park of even establishing and staffing a ranger station in the new park.  For now, visitor information will be handled out of Mojave National Preserve.  Certainly one possibility would be for Congress to eventually combine together Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument into a single park, although considering that Congress did proposed legislation to do this for several years, that seems unlikely.  For now, visitor services will be handled out of Mojave National Preserve, the main visitor for which is in the historic Kelso Depot, a former train station in the middle of the desert, and a place with a history all its own.

In the meantime, the Castle Mountains of the Mojave Desert become a new place on the bucket list for national park completists, and the sort of destination of which dreams of a new national parks adventure are made.   This image by Justin Weiss is a nearly-perfect representation of that, prints of the image can be purchased, proceeds from which benefit the National Parks Conservation Association advocacy group.

Historic-style National Park Service poster by Justin Weiss.
Historic-style National Park Service poster by Justin Weiss.

 

 

Share this Parkasaurus post: Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Follow Parkasaurus: Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

February Stories Behind the Stamps: El Malpais & Erie Canal

El Malpais National Monument headlines the list of new stamps this month.
El Malpais National Monument headlines the list of new stamps this month.  This is a view from the sandstone bluffs overlooking one of the lava fields.

Eastern National has released the new stamps for the month of February.   There is just one new stamp for units of the National Park System, and a few others for partnership programs.  All told only two of the seven new stamps are actually for truly new locations.   Here’s the list:

El Malpais National Monument | El Malpais Visitor Center

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor |

    • Albany Institute of History & Art
    • Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum
    • T. Spencer Knight Park and Visitor Center
    • Waterford Flight

Santa Fe National Historic Trail | Las Vegas Citizens for Historic Preservation

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Audubon Acres, TN

The newly-rebranded El Malpais Visitor Center at El Malpais National Monument
The newly-rebranded El Malpais Visitor Center at El Malpais National Monument.  Photo credit: Brian Bailey

The highlight of this month’s new stamps is El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico.  Located right next to Interstate 40 about 80 miles west of Albuqeurque in the town of Grants, the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Visitor Center serves as a joint visitor venter for the National Park Service’s El Malpais National Monument and the adjacent El Malpais National Conservation Area, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.   The new stamp this month reflects the National Park Service’s decision to re-brand the generic-sounding Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center as the El Malpais Visitor Center and to more prominently feature the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management logos, connecting the Visitor Center to the El Malpais park lands.  This article from the Cibola (NM) Beacon has more background on the decision.  In particular it notes that the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center was originally built in 1999 with an overly-optimistic projection of 500,000 visitors per year, but last year only welcomed 23,000 visitors – which was only just about one-eighth of the 175,000 visitors to El Malpais National Monument itself.  Hopefully the rebranding will more closely connect the facility to visitors to the park, as it is legitimately a very nice, spacious facility with lots of natural light and space for quality exhibits.

More importantly, hopefully this will be part of a campaign to draw more people to explore El Malpais National Monument.  In recent years, the Federal Government has started using the national monument  designation for more and more places, including historic sites like Pullman National Monument and Honouliuli National Monument, fossil sites like Waco Mammoth National Monument.   The national monument designation has also been increasingly used for places in the National Landscape Conservation System, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and which typically lack the visitor facilities of national park service areas.  So when visitors to an area see national monument, its really hard to know what to expect.

El Malpais in particular is a hidden gem for many who discover it.  The name is Spanish for “the bandlands,” and it preserves the remains of a lava field from a volcanic eruption that occurred just 2-3,000 years ago.   Most significantly, its worth noting that at more than 114,000 acres in size, El Malpais National Monument is larger than 21 full-fledged national parks.  Indeed, it is more than twice the size of Acadia National Park,  which just recently was the subject of a two-part trip report on Parkasaurus.  Thus, despite the fact that El Malpais National Monument is almost completely lacking any sort of national reputation as a “destination park,” its large size provides plenty to explore and discover.

The restored Sam Patch canal boat is one of the highlights of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. A new stamp has been seen to the T. Spencer Knight Canal Park in Newark, NY just a few miles from Pittsford, NY where the Sam Patch is based.
The restored Sam Patch canal boat is one of the highlights of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. A new stamp has been seen to the T. Spencer Knight Canal Park in Newark, NY just a few miles from Pittsford, NY where the Sam Patch is based.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor stretches, in the words of the famous song, “from Albany to Buffalo.”  Two of the four new stamps are already Passport locations.  The Albany Institute of History and Art has been preserving the heritage of the upper Hudson River Valley since 1791, and is already a Passport location for the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.  Both Heritage Areas overlap in the Albany area of New York State.  The new stamp for the T. Spencer Knight Park and Visitor Center is  a rebranded replacement stamp for the existing Port of Newark Canal Park.  The park features a mural depicting the Erie Canalway and a hiking trail along the canal.

The Waterford Flight stamp will be located at the Waterford Harbor Information Center, which is a brand-new Passport location for the Canal.  The Waterford Flight Locks are a set of five locks on the modern Erie Barge Canal, that raises boats more than 150 feet in just 1.5 miles around the Cohoes Falls of the Mohawk River. This is the greatest vertical distance for a set of canal locks in the world!

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is located just north of  Buffalo, NY in the suburb of North Tonawanda – and yes, the museum uses that older spelling of carousel.  The factory dates back to the second decade of the twentieth century, and it immediately looks like one of the most-intriguing Passport destinations in the Heritage Area.

The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for historic Preservation has a new stamp this month for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, and is the new friends organization for nearby Fort Union National Monument.
The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for historic Preservation has a new stamp this month for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, and is the new friends organization for nearby Fort Union National Monument.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail marks the famed 19th Century trade route between Kansas City in the United States and the town of Santa Fe in the newly-independent country of Mexico.   The Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation in Las Vegas, New Mexico promotes the history of the town, located about an hour’s drive to the east of Santa Fe itself.   The group also operates a Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center in downtown Las Vegas.  According to their website, last month they also became the official “friends organization” for nearby Fort Union National Monument.  The new stamp replaces an earlier stamp with a typo in it, reading only “Citizens Committee Historic Preservation, NM” (i.e. missing the word “for.“)

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail  marks the route of the forcible expulsion of Cherokee American Indians and others from the eastern United States to present-day Oklahoma.   Audubon Acres is a local nature preserve operated by the Chattanooga Chapter of the Audubon Society.  Significantly, the first naturalist on this property was actually a Cherokee American Indian by the name of Spring Frog.   The restored Spring Frog Cabin, where he lived, provides insight into the lives of the Cherokee in this area before their removal.  Additionally, many of the plant labels in the sanctuary are labeled in both English and in the Cherokee language.

The three new stamps this month (i.e. those that are not replacements for existing stamps) bring the total number of Passport cancellations to 1,997.  Next month the Passport program will likely add its 2,000th cancellation!  Excluding cancellations for special programs and anniversaries, there are 1,897 Passport cancellations available.

Share this Parkasaurus post: Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Follow Parkasaurus: Facebooktwittergoogle_plus