Painted Canyon on the Ladder Hike Trail in the Mecca Hills WildernessPhoto credit: Travis B Johnson Photos / Shutterstock.com
Joshua Tree National Park could get a new neighbor — a national monument named for a desert denizen. An effort is underway to create a new monument on the southern edge of the existing park. It would preserve nearly 700,000 desert acres for recreation while protecting plants, animals, and cultural and historic sites. A presidential order or a congressional vote will be needed to make this monument a reality.
In hopes of increasing the public’s accessibility to wildlife, entrance to the monument will be free.
The proposed monument is named for a lizard found in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and Northwestern Mexico. The stout-bodied chuckwalla is the second largest lizard in the United States, next in size only to the Gila monster. Male chuckwalla lizards can measure up to 18 inches long; the female is somewhat smaller.
The name chuckwalla (or chuckawalla) is derived from the Shoshone word tcaxxwal or caxwal, the form used by the Cahuilla Native Americans of Southeastern California and originally written in Spanish as chacahuala.
These lizards are big and look mean. However, chuckwallas are harmless herbivores feeding on desert flowers, fruits, and leaves. Young chuckwallas are known to try a grasshopper or two but stick entirely to plants by the time they are a year old. Chuckwallas obtain all their water from the plants they eat and never drink, even when water is readily available. They are adept at living in rocky areas under 4,000 feet of elevation. They dodge into cracks in the rocks in which they live when threatened. Then, they inflate themselves with air to wedge into the crevices, making it nearly impossible to remove them.
Other Wildlife To Be Protected
In addition to the chuckwalla lizard, other animals found in and around Joshua Tree would be protected. These include the desert tortoise, which lives up to 80 years, and the desert bighorn sheep. In addition, the monument would include the microphyll woodlands, which host 90 percent of songbirds in California deserts.
History To Be Preserved
The proposed monument area would include the Bradshaw Trail near Riverside County, a trade route used by 19th-century gold prospectors, and an ancient Native American trade route that crosses the region connecting one spring to another. That area was also used to train soldiers during World War II from 1942 to 1944. Tank tracks, abandoned camps, and training areas can still be seen there.