I started this year with a resolution to do something new, inspired by a phenomenal and challenging hike in early January to Etiwanda Falls with my daughters and their friend. A friend connected me to the staff at Mojave Desert Land Trust and we planned a nature trip, an opportunity to explore some of the natural wonders and national treasures in the California desert, just a couple of hours away from home.
We decided on visiting Amboy Crater, the National Natural Landmark that is located between Barstow and Needles, along historic Route 66. It is an extinct cinder cone crater approximately 79,000 years old, surrounded by lava lakes from ancient lava flows. Its most recent eruption, according to scientists, was over 10,000 years ago. It is located in the Mojave Trails National Monument, designated by President Obama to protect 1.6 million acres of California desert public land in 2016.
We organized the trip as a learning experience and educational opportunity for many of the youth I work with through BLU Educational Foundation. Youth from three local schools and colleges, along with a few community leaders, enthusiastically accepted the challenge. Many had never visited a National Monument nor traveled that far from their San Bernardino county neighborhoods. So I was surprised by the number of adventurers who signed-up for our March 12th outing. We not only had a full bus, we unfortunately had to turn some people away simply because we didn’t have enough seats.
We traveled over two hours to Amboy Crater, where the staff of Mojave Desert Land Trust and the Bureau of Land Management greeted us, providing a brief introduction about the area and public lands in general. We set out from the trailhead and hiked up the Western Cone Trail towards the volcano’s rim. The terrain was steep and rocky but the group enjoyed the trek. As we explored the spectacular scene surrounding us, I couldn’t help but to think of the first stanza of Maya Angelou’s evocative and inspiring inaugural poem, “On The Pulse of Morning:”
A Rock. A River. A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
Standing there at the rim of the old world, surrounded by the kinetic energy of the youth, reminded me of our profound responsibility to protect the great gifts of the earth for future generations. As I stood there, Ms. Angelou’s final lines of her poem echoed all around me that day, “The Rock cries out to us today, You may stand upon me, But do not hide your face.” I realized then that we all must dedicate ourselves to protecting the treasures of our public lands.
By taking a group of young people with me, I learned an important lesson of teaching stewardship of our public lands to the next generation. The youngest students of the group stood in amazement when they heard that the black rock they were standing on had been there for thousands of years and it would be there for their children and their children’s children if we preserve and protect it. The older students were surprised by the rattlesnakes and other types of wildlife that call the place home. They all became animated when upon learning that all Americans are co-owners of our public lands and, as such, they too have a duty to help protect natural resources like Amboy Crater.
We are blessed in San Bernardino County to have some of the most diverse public lands in the nation, including deserts, valleys, canyons, and high peaks. We must educate ourselves on what good stewardship means. And we must share that knowledge with our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and decision makers. These treasures truly do belong to all of us. What a powerful revelation that was.