Yesterday was a landmark day, especially poignant for Farley and me. Congress approved adding more than 2 million acres to federally protected wilderness, about 700,000 acres in California. It’s been a long haul of letters, meetings and lobbying since the May 2000 statewide wilderness conference, which inspired our photo-essay book, Call of the Mountains, and which sparked a widespread campaign for wilderness preservation in California. Subsequently, Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the California Wild Heritage Act of 2002, to protect more than 2.5 million acres of public lands and portions of 22 rivers. We celebrated, but the bill didn’t pass. Yet it paved the way for a bill passed in 2006, adding acreage to the Hoover and Emigrant Wilderness Areas and for passage of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, which gave wilderness designation to more than 265,000 acres.Yesterday’s bill includes wilderness designations in the range of our book – about 40,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains and about 8,400 acres in the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains Nat. Monument. It also creates the South Fork San Jacinto Wilderness and the Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness. (Pages 45, 58-59, Call of the Mountains.) Another 1.4 million wild acres awaits protection, such as additions to the Cucamonga and Sheep Mountain Wilderness Areas. Yet I believe their turn will come, fueled by yesterday’s momentum and more public awareness.
Two weeks ago Farley and I, along with our friend Keith, slogged six miles up to Dry Lake. We found it still covered with snow, just like the surrounding mountains looming above. Another March day, but in 2003, Farley photographed Dry Lake for Call of the Mountains, page 80. But that day, ducks bobbed around in the lake’s water. Keith hadn’t seen Dry Lake in more than 20 years when he camped there with his small son. After a food break, we put on our snowshoes and ran around on the frozen lake like children. This sparkling 9,000 foot stage must have triggered our spontaneous play. It reminded me – not of other snowshoeing occasions – but of snow games I played as a child growing up in the Midwest.
Around the lake and as far down to South Fork Meadow, we noticed ski tracks made when the snow was fresher. Keith had hoped to ski instead of snowshoe, but the snow was too icy and patchy in places. I came back with more respect for the hardy folks who lug their skis or traverse up toward the higher reaches of 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain. Now I understand better why skiers in the 1930s and 1940s wanted mechanical lifts developed. Yet I’m glad that wilderness designation persevered, protecting the scene we experienced. Of course Dry Lake is not a natural lake, created by Vincent Taylor, who in 1883 dammed the stream outlet with rocks and timber. He talked about building a cabin resort along the lake, but thankfully he didn’t get it accomplished.