4 Monuments in 4 Days with Caroline Gleich & Meg Haywood Sullivan
Written by KEEN Ambassador Caroline Gleich
Photographed by KEEN Ambassador Meg Haywood Sullivan
After months of gathering public comments about the status of our national monuments, the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, announced his recommendations on August 24. I had been following the administration’s unprecedented national monument review with nervous anticipation. The details of his report did little to alleviate my anxiety.
It was intentionally cryptic, and the lack of transparency concerned me. While Zinke is not calling for any monuments to be completely removed, he is urging the President to shrink the boundaries on a handful of our treasured spaces. Despite the fact that millions of Americans spoke up during the public comment period, and the vast majority of comments (98%) were in favor of maintaining existing national monuments. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt disappointed that our elected and appointed officials were not listening to the people.
Instead of wallowing in misery and succumbing to the downward digital spiral that happens when you read too many online articles, I decided it was time to take action.
Instead of wallowing in misery and succumbing to the downward digital spiral that happens when you read too many online articles, I decided it was time to take action. I called up KEEN Ambassador Meg Haywood Sullivan, and we decided we needed to get our Terradora boots on the ground to see what’s at stake. We looked at a map and planned a link up of four national monuments we could easily explore in a four-day trip around her home of Los Angeles. I threw some gear in a big duffel bag, Meg packed up food and the car, I flew to LA where she picked me up, and it was on!
OUR ROAD TRIP TUNES:
DAY 1: CARRIZO PLAIN NATIONAL MONUMENT
From Los Angeles International, we threw my orange duffel into Meg’s Subaru and drove northeast under the hot California sun to Carrizo Plain National Monument. The more time we spent there, the more the landscape came alive. Driving in, we saw a herd of antelope. We drove across the entire 200,000-acre monument, mostly on dirt roads, without a trace of cell phone coverage. At sunset, we walked to Painted Rock, a brightly colored pictograph site created by the Chumash Native Americans. When Meg and I walked into the site, in a natural amphitheater, we both gasped. I felt a presence greater than myself. It was breathtaking, the way the colors and drawings appeared on the rock was both subtle and obvious at the same time. This site and the surrounding monument represent our shared human history. This land unites us, and that moment we shared made the entire trip worthwhile. In order to hike to Painted Rock, you need a permit, so make sure to set that up beforehand.
At nighttime, as we scanned the plain with our headlamps, we noticed the bright eyes of animals everywhere. We heard kangaroo rats, owls, and foxes. We saw a tarantula, jack rabbits, hawks, ravens, and lizards. It’s as much of a sanctuary for animals as it is for humans. The sweet scent of sage and juniper filled the air. Under a dark night sky, the Milky Way revealed itself. As dusk settled in, we set up camp at Selby campground, surrounded by rolling mountains and fading light. We enjoyed a lovely dinner of risotto and chicken sausage, and I strummed my ukulele as we settled into our home for the evening. Under an almost new moon, the stars were vibrant.
When you are getting all packed up to go on a camping trip like this, the preparation can seem overwhelming. But when you’re out there, living in the dirt, it all of a sudden feels familiar.
When you are getting all packed up to go on a camping trip like this, the preparation can seem overwhelming. But when you’re out there, living in the dirt, it all of a sudden feels familiar. There is something instinctual about camping. And rightly so, it’s how humans lived on the earth for tens of thousands of years. There was something so calming about being so far away from city lights and cell phone coverage. Our eyes and ears started to adjust to a new normal.
We woke with the sun and packed up camp. On our way out, we took a relaxing walk to Soda Lake, a dry lake bed that is the largest remaining natural alkali wetland in southern California. We left Carrizo Plain with dirt under our fingernails and the kiss of the sun on our skin, with smiles from ear to ear. Somehow, my senses felt sharper from my time there. I was able to see more vividly and hear more than before.
DAY 2: GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT
As we drove toward Giant Sequoia National Monument, we passed through McKittrick, California, home to one of the most extensive oil fields I’d ever seen. It made me realize how important it is to protect the existing footprint of the national monument. I noticed the huge pipelines, and I couldn’t help but worry about their proximity to the San Andreas fault.
After driving through hours of oil and agricultural land, the landscape started to change, and the big trees of the forest and higher elevations brought a much-needed drop in temperature. Once inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument, we found an ideal campsite right off the road, and walked over to hike and explore the Trail of 100 Giants for sunset. I’ve seen redwoods before, but it was my first time experiencing the impressive beauty of California’s sequoia trees. They were ginormous! The trail of 100 Giants is paved and easily accessible. I loved seeing the diversity of visitors. Afterwards, Meg and I retreated to our campsite, cooked a delicious dinner of mac and cheese with broccoli and spinach, with banana, cashew butter, and marshmallow “sushi” bites for dessert.
DAY 3: SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS NATIONAL MONUMENT
The next morning, we headed to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. When you think of LA, you don’t normally think of mountains. But maybe you should. San Gabriel provides 70 percent of the open space to more than 15 million people who live within a 90-minute drive. It’s crucial habitat for hundreds of California native species that only grow in this mountain range, and the watershed provides one-third of LA’s drinking water.
I was awestruck by the views of the city from the mountain tops, the rocky, craggy cliffs, and the biodiversity of the flora. I loved the perfectly symmetrical yucca plants on the hike we did. From the top of Mt. Wilson, we enjoyed one of the most beautiful pink and purple sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
President Obama designated the national monument to increase outdoor access to the people of Los Angeles. The outdoors is a place for all Americans. Part of what Meg and I wanted to highlight on our road trip was the need for increased funding to bring better trailhead amenities, signage, public transportation, and education about leave no trace ethics and low-impact, human-powered recreation. Monument designations help communities reduce the amount of litter, graffiti, and even arson that places like San Gabriel, with four million annual visitors, see on a routine basis.
DAY 4: SAND TO SNOW NATIONAL MONUMENT
For our final stop, we went to Sand to Snow National Monument, which was designated in 2016 and has been removed from the monument review—it will be protected as it is!
Most of the monument is designated wilderness, and is a crucial wildlife corridor for bighorn sheep. It’s home to 12 endangered and threatened animal species, and over 240 species of birds, including the California spotted owl. It’s sacred land to the Serrano and Cahuilla Native Americans, who lived at the base of San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in California south of the Sierra Nevada. It’s full of waterfalls, streams, forest, and breathtaking rock walls that light up at sunrise and sunset.
Driving to Sand to Snow through the gateway town of Forest Falls, the landscape has a special presence. As a hiker, it draws you in. It feels warm and inviting. I can see why the Native Americans came here to gather food, medicinal plants, and basket-making material, and to hunt deer and other animals. On our hike, Meg and I came eye to eye with a healthy, strong doe. It was a fitting end to our girl’s road trip, sharing the strong, feminine energy with a wild animal.
On our hike, Meg and I came eye to eye with a healthy, strong doe. It was a fitting end to our girl’s road trip, sharing the strong, feminine energy with a wild animal.
You never know exactly what you’ll find when you embark on an adventure like this. What Meg and I found was surprising – the adventure was more affordable and accessible than we could’ve ever realized. It strengthened our bond as friends, and helped energize us for all the battles we face on the road ahead. Sleeping in these national monuments made us even more committed to protecting them!
What you can do:
Explore these places. Go experience them. Camp, hike, climb, paddle, run, and sleep there. Get the dirt of them under your finger nails.
Bear witness to what may happen next. At this point, the administration knows that the public does not support shrinking the national monuments, so they may try and hide their next steps. All we can go off is rumors, and I’ve heard between four to eight monuments are going to be impacted. The cuts could be dramatic. We must remain ever vigilant and optimistic.
Get involved. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will start working on a management plan for Sand to Snow National Monument soon, and they are looking for public involvement. If you are interested in participating, contact the San Bernardino National Forest at 909-382-2600.