"Nature is the medium in which life transpires,"
Scott Russel Sanders on Wendell Berry.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day12: Saddleback Butte State Park & Antelope Valley Indian Museum

14 June, 2011

Saddleback Butte State Park is located in Joshua tree territory near Lancaster. By the time I arrived at 11:00 a.m., it was nearly 100 degrees. I looked at the sign for the trail head then up at the exposed butte and back again. The heat crinkled the atmosphere and the complete absence of shade meant no hike today unless I wanted to feed the coyotes and turkey vultures (not a bad funeral if you ask me); however, I decided I am not ready to die just yet. As an alternative, I sat sweltering in the campground under one of the shade and wind shelters constructed and maintained by park staff and poured out several small puddles of water from my gallon jug for the flies with the hope that, perhaps, they would stop accosting me. I daydreamed about spring or fall weather and imagined the view from the top of the butte.

The Joshua trees impressed me with their size and Dr. Seuss-like morphology. The last remnants of the winter’s snow drizzled down mountain tops in the distance like icing on a great rocky Danish. The red rock blazed against the green of the Joshua trees and the deafening blue of the sky.

The scene possessed a likeness to old western movies. If I hadn’t known better, I would have expected to hear the call of a loon. A loon is a water bird whose feet sit so far back on its body (an adaptation for diving and fishing underwater) that if it ends up on land it cannot walk; therefore, the decision of Hollywood film makers to use the loons call as a hallmark of the desert is both hilarious and maddening to bird nerds like myself.

Despite the beauty of the park; it is also extremely harsh. Instead of camping at Saddleback Butte, I decided to move on to Palomar Mountain and the cooler temperatures of San Diego county.

On my way out of Lancaster, I stopped at Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park just down the road from Saddleback Butte. Unfortunately, the park is only open to the public on the weekends, and school tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A brochure for Antelope Valley that I picked up later at Fort Tejon describes an incredible experience, and I longed to walk the paths under the rocky bluff where the museum is located, and learn about the culture indigenous to the area.

Many indigenous cultures hold and maintain thousands of years of ecological knowledge within a variety of traditions. Places like Antelope Valley Indian Museum give us the unique opportunity to discover different ways of understanding the world, retaining knowledge, and interacting with the ecosystems in which we live. If we chose to listen to the knowledge maintained by many of these societies, we could learn a lot about how to survive and make the best use of resources and how to begin to restore specific ecosystems and resources.

A holistic yet unique management approach for each landscape, watershed, or ecosystem is much more conducive to effective land use management than the cookie cutter approach used by bureaucratic systems. When we work inside political systems instead of ecological ones, we tend to generalize in order to simplify and govern;however, our relationship with place is anything but simple. Utilizing the wisdom and knowledge of traditional resource management is one way to rethink our relationship with our local and regional places.

In my conversations with park employees, many of them spoke of the complexity of place as it pertains to parks and the difficulty (or impossibility) of trying to systematically shut "place" down. The people who work in and live in these parks understand the quirks (and there are many) of the buildings, trails, ecosystems, and sewer systems; to just simply stop maintaining them will cause more damage and cost more money in the long run.


  1. Hi, I am enjoying this blog a lot. I recently visited the AV Indian Museum - what a place! Sorry you didn't get to go in. I just fell in love with it. Also, on the grounds were many birds and I saw lots of Verdins. I met a ranger in the museum who is also an archaeologist and she's written a book on the museum. She told me how recently she'd been sent up to N. Cal. to go to training, the subject was: how to pack up museum collections :-(

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