We crossed our fingers a few weeks back, and we got our wish: At least in the Eastern Mojave, this is one of the best bloom years for Joshua trees in living memory. For the last three weeks, most Joshua trees in the stretch of desert near Joshua Tree National Park have been putting out an historic level of bloom. That's likely to continue for a couple more weeks, making up for an otherwise uninspiring wildflower season through most of the desert.
It's not often that Bear Gulch Caves are completely open, but on Friday a tweet from Pinnacles National Park announced just that. The caves, which are of the talus variety, are home to protected Townsend's big-eared bats, and thus are partially or fully closed throughout the year. The National Park Service keeps a schedule on a webpage, but it does not appear to be correctly updated as of publish. As with many outdoors locations, calling the visitor center beforehand helps ensure finding the most accurate information.
The complete opening of the caves is through the end of the month, but open or not, the area around the caves is worth the hike, according to local experts. "This is a great hike for all ages and most hiking abilities, and it highlights some of the more interesting areas of the park," writes Casey Schreiner at Modern Hiker of his short and easy 1.5 mile hike in Bear Gulch. The writers at Weekend Sherpa recommended a longer 5.5 mile "Grand Central Circuit": "The first section [of the cave] is a deep, narrow gorge suitable for most explorers. True spelunkers can continue into the upper half of the cave where crouching and negotiating tight squeezes is part of the fun."
A week into sequestration, National Parks Director Jon Jarvis has released another memo to all National Park Service employees (read the previous memo). It's a 30,000 foot view type of message: 900 jobs, or 6 percent of permanent staff positions, will remain vacant; some facilities will close completely when they breakdown; millions of dollars spent on ridding areas of invasive species could be wasted as those plants creep back into park boundaries.
Nothing here is necessarily new -- although a hint about March 27, the so-called government shutdown, is dropped -- but it's posted below in full for the sake of public viewing. To understand what sequestration means for National Park units in California, read this earlier story.
The news for grandiose blooms of wildflowers this spring has not been looking great so far. The poppy fields in Antelope Valley remain brown. It's sluggish at Carrizo Plain. And so on and on. But at Wind Wolves Preserve in Kern County, a different story is developing.
Fiddleneck, Wild Hyacinth (blue dicks), Monolopia, Red Maids, Blue-eyed Gilia, purple Phacelia, and Bloodroots, along with some Grape soda lupine and poppies, are starting to bloom nicely, The Wildlands Conservancy, the private nonprofit that owns Wind Wolves, announced today.
It looks like sequestration, across-the-board cuts to federal spending, will hit the country Friday. For the National Park Service, that means taking five percent, or $134 million, from its budget. While that doesn't seem like a big number to some, the cut comes mid-year (October 1 is the federal government's fiscal year), meaning it may actually feel like a 10 percent cut as most parks head into their busy summer season.
Should the sequester happen, each of Park Service's 398 units were tasked with developing budget cut plans, something NPS Director Jon Jarvis in a memo this week described as "a grim reality of how we will have to reduce the level of direct services we provide to the American people in parks and communities across the country."
Of course, the sequestration deadline is happening the very week the Park Service released its annual economic impact study. The peer-reviewed report, put together by Michigan State University, found that visitors generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. More than one-third of that spending -- $13 billion -- went into communities within 60 miles of a park, the report found. In California, home to more national parks than any other state, the numbers crunch down to this: 35 million visitors, $1.4 billion spent, and 21,500 jobs.
How sequestration affects this year's economic impact is yet to be seen, but as SoCal Wanderer discovered in discussions with over 10 of the biggest parks in the state, it's likely there will be some. What follows is a detailing of each of those parks' planning in the case of the budget cut. Take note, however: Even if the sequester does occur, the following may change because solutions can be fluid.
If the sequester takes effect Friday -- and all signs seem to point to that -- the National Park Service, like most all federal agencies, will face severe cuts. With such major change comes words from leadership. Over the weekend, Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the Department of the Interior (where National Parks are housed), sent out his memo priming staff for what is likely to come.
Then on Tuesday, it was National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis' turn, no easy task for a 37-year veteran of the agency. KCET's SoCal Wanderer has obtained his memo and presents it in full below.
In the months leading up to the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover last August, news often carried a certain earthling angle: "Death Valley used as stand-in for Martian landscape," read a Christian Science Monitor headline; "NASA scientist William Dietrich compares patterns created by river fans found in California's Death Valley to similar fans found on Mars," explained a PBS Newshour blog post; "The Dumont Dunes near Death Valley are a popular playground for off-road vehicle fans," noted our very own Chris Clarke when he visited Scarecrow, Curiosity's twin.
It's not the first time something like this has happened on public land in California and, unfortunately, probably not the last. In July, it was in Golden Gate National Recreation Area; now it's rangers at Sequoia National Forest that are asking for the public's help. Last week, a large pile of debris was discovered over a steep hillside off a scenic overlook on Sierra Way, east of Kernville.
Thousands of furloughed employees, threats to the federal firefighting workforce, and possible closures at parks. All that and more was detailed in a memo obtained by SoCal Wanderer and sent to 76,000 federal employees under Secretary Ken Salazar this weekend (read it in full below).
At issue is sequestration, unpopular across-the-board cuts that were postponed during last-minute fiscal cliff negotiations earlier this year. If congress does not act this week, they will go into effect Friday.
If Beltway Insiders' talk of the sequester has made your eyes glaze over so far, here's something that may make you open those eyes wide: This postponed and renamed Son of The Fiscal Cliff, which goes into effect March 1 if no action is taken to prevent it, may mean at least $7 million in cuts to California's National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, and Historic Sites. That could mean no seasonal ranger hires, closed campgrounds, and limited visitor center hours.
It could also mean you have to drive a few extra hours to get to the other side of the Sierra Nevada until the snow melts: the cuts would mean no budget for Yosemite National Park to plow Route 120 over Tioga Pass.