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Wild Heart of the Inland Empire: Sand to Snow National Monument in Pictures

Sand to Snow National Monument summed up in one shot | Photo: Bob Wick/BLM
Sand to Snow National Monument summed up in one shot | Photo: Bob Wick/BLM

Established on February 12, 2016 by President Barack Obama, the 154,000-acre Sand To Snow National Monument is one heck of a Valentine's Day present to Southern California, but it's being reviewed for possible abolition by the Interior Department by order of Donald Trump

That would be a tragedy for hikers, picnickers, photographers, anglers, and those who care about Southern California's biological diversity. With more than 11,000 feet of elevation changes within its borders, Sand to Snow sits right where three distinct ecosystems — the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and the Transverse Ranges — all merge.

That makes it an oasis of biodiversity in one of the nation's most heavily developed settings: the rapidly growing Inland Empire. More than 1,600 different species of plants live here, a couple hours' drive from more than 20 million Southern Californians. 

And for all those neighbors, Sand to Snow is remarkably uncrowded. 

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Rainbow Rock Canyon in Sand to Snow N.M. | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved
Rainbow Rock Canyon in Sand to Snow N.M. | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved

Two thirds of Sand to Snow was protected as wilderness even before Barack Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1908 to designate it as a National Monument. Much of the remainder had been acquired and protected  by the Wildlands Conservancy, whose Whitewater Preserve remains a popular bit of relief from the hot, dry Coachella Valley. Day-use visitors flock there to dip their toes in the year-round Whitewater River. And that water makes the Whitewater Preserve, at the south entrance to Sand to Snow, one of the most reliable places to catch a glimpse of usually reclusive desert bighorn sheep.

Desert bighorn sheep at the Whitewater Preserve | Photo: Brittany O'Connor, some rights reserved
Desert bighorn sheep at the Whitewater Preserve | Photo: Brittany O'Connor, some rights reserved

Sand to Snow plays host to about 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which climbs from the floor of Whitewater Canyon to the San Gorgonio high country on its way from Mexico to Canada. 

PCT trail marker | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved
PCT trail marker | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved

Whether you follow the PCT or find your own way, climbing Sand to Snow from the desert to the mountains offers up an ever-changing arrangement of landscapes. A few thousand feet up, entering the Mojave Desert, plants like the striking Nolina start to make their appearance among the creosote bushes.

Nolina in bloom | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved
Nolina in bloom | Photo: Matt Artz, some rights reserved

At around 5,000 feet, the desert's heat starts to ebb and junipers appear…

The juniper belt of the San Bernardino Mountains | Photo: Chris Clarke
An overcast day in the juniper belt of the San Bernardino Mountains | Photo: Chris Clarke

 …along with a few surprises in the understory, if you're there at the right time.

Desert mariposa lily | Photo: Chris Clarke
Desert mariposa lily | Photo: Chris Clarke

Hike carefully if you're wearing sandals: some of those understory plants hint that you're really not that far removed from California's deserts. 

Small Mojave mound cactus in bloom | Photo: Chris Clarke
Small Mojave mound cactus in bloom | Photo: Chris Clarke

As you climb, plants more and more suited to life in the forest start to appear. 

Native Phlox | Photo: Chris Clarke
Native Phlox | Photo: Chris Clarke

But enough looking down! There are views to be had as we get to the higher elevations in Sand to Snow. 

Ridges near Forest Falls | Photo: YoungKwan Cho, some rights reserved
Ridges near Forest Falls | Photo: YoungKwan Cho, some rights reserved

And if all that looking at wildflowers at your feet has your neck cramped, it's not a bad idea to work out some of the stiffness by looking up for a while. 

Trees in the Sand to Snow National Monument | Photo: Ron Kroetz, some rights reserved
Trees in the Sand to Snow National Monument | Photo: Ron Kroetz, some rights reserved

Sand to Snow has such varied terrain that just a few air miles from the cacti and desert bighorns at Whitewater lives the southernmost grove of quaking aspens in California. Though the aboveground portion of that grove burned down in 2015, it's growing back just fine. It's unusual to see a tree associated with cold mountain forests growing this far toward Mexico. (Though they do grow in Mexico's higher, colder mountains!) 

California's southernmost aspen grove, in Sand to Snow N.M. | Photo: Mitch Barrie, some rights reserved
California's southernmost aspen grove, in Sand to Snow N.M. | Photo: Mitch Barrie, some rights reserved

And then, of course, there's the roof of Sand to snow National Monument: 11,503-foot San Gorgonio Peak, the highest peak in Southern California. 

San Gorgonio Peak in snow | Photo: Mitch Barrie, some rights reserved
San Gorgonio Peak in snow | Photo: Mitch Barrie, some rights reserved

All of this and more just a short drive from Downtown San Bernardino. Worth the drive, and worth a few minutes of your time to tell the Interior Department to let it be.

The Department of the Interior is seeking public comment on the benefits any or all of the national monuments on the chopping block. You can submit comments through http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or send them by mail to the following address:

Monument Review, MS-1530
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

The deadline for comments is July 10.

Banner: Sand to Snow National Monument within reach of millions of urban Californians. Photo: Bryce Bradford, some rights reserved

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