Conglomerate Mesa Under Threat

I had several posts planned but this needs to take priority.

As an artist, I have profited from images of this land. Photos of this wilderness have been featured in my exhibits in Los Angeles. I have hiked and camped and explored here for over three years. This desert is a part of me and I love it deeply. It is unexpectedly generous for a place most casual observers regard as a wasteland. It has tolerated my incursions, revealed secrets, taught me the limits of my endurance, saved me when I was foolish and out of water - I have benefited financially and philosophically from it. So I feel an obligation and a responsibility when it itself is in peril.

It has been under threat by mining interests before and endured.  This time feels different. Before now companies passed on the expense and effort of mining here. Now an upstart exploration company from Canada, K2 Gold, has obtained permission from the Bureau of Land Management to do exploratory drilling in dozens of locations and are doing so even as I write this. For now, they are limited in what they can do and are restricted to bringing equipment in via helicopter. Ultimately, if BLM permits it, there will be an open pit cyanide leach mine atop this iconic mesa just miles from the border of Death Valley National Park. It will erase Conglomerate Mesa, gnawing it down to rubble.

The first time I saw Conglomerate Mesa I was smitten. This gorgeous escarpment rising out of the desert floor like a headland rising from the sea. Every time I drive out, I search eagerly for the first glimpse of it emerging from behind Malpais Mesa Wilderness and, without fail, I murmur “Hello, beautiful,” and my heart leaps.

The mesa is an integral part of this wilderness, a defining characteristic of our wild, public lands. It has existed thus for thousands of years. Why? Why would we deface it now of all times? When we are facing massive climate change and environmental disasters? Did you know that 70% of the earth’s surface has been altered by humans already? It is absolutely vital that we realize the threats wild places face before they all vanish.

Right now, Conglomerate stands in a corridor of unbroken wilderness that stretches 70 miles from Malpais Mesa to the northern terminus of the Inyo Mountains. Rugged and vast, wild and free. Bighorn sheep occasionally stray from their mountain fastness here, rare plants bloom on the mesa, it harbors the northernmost forest of Joshua Trees (recently protected). There is a silence here so deep your ears sing. At night the stars go all the way to the ground. I’ve lain snug in a sleeping bag beneath their soft radiance listening to great horned owls calling to each other. As evening blues the world, coyotes sing, pack rats and kangaroo rats emerge for nocturnal forays. There are roadrunners here, golden eagles perch incongruously in yuccas, prairie falcons nest on canyon rims, northern harriers hover in updrafts. Sometimes when I’m in the back country, they come so close I can see their talons clench and unclench because in these wild lands people are still few enough they excite curiosity instead of fear. Do you know how rare that is?

Please, if you have appreciated my work, if you love wilderness, add your voice to the growing chorus of people who are saying no to despoiling these pristine lands. Here is a link to the petition: You don’t need to live in California or be a local and it only takes a minute to show your support.

Additionally, here are the organizations at the forefront of the fight to protect Conglomerate Mesa. If you are able, please consider supporting them. Thank you for reading this.

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