This hike through our desert public lands was an opportunity to connect with members of my church and be reminded about the spiritual experience of being outdoors. When I am in nature, I am closer to God’s creation — whether looking up at the vast expanse of the sky in the desert, seeing a majestic bighorn sheep, or experiencing the wonder of Joshua trees.
We are lucky to live in a place with so many public lands. From Joshua Tree National Park to the area’s newest national monuments — Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains — these public lands preserve our region’s pioneering history, Native American cultural sites, and our landscape’s natural and geological wonders.
All of these places were protected thanks to the hard work of local advocates and community leaders who spoke up about the value of conserving our public lands and presidents who listened and used the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments.
From Teddy Roosevelt through President Obama, there is a legacy of presidents — both Republicans and Democrats — conserving our country’s historical, cultural and natural wonders with the Antiquities Act. This 1906 law has ensured the permanent protection of American treasures. For examples of this, look no further than the places we love — from the California Desert to the iconic Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
President Obama leaves behind a significant legacy in this area. He used the Antiquities Act to help preserve the stories of all Americans for future generations to visit, learn from and enjoy.
In the Central Valley, President Obama designated César E. Chávez National Monument, a tribute to one of our state’s most significant Latino leaders. Along the Central Coast, he protected Fort Ord National Monument in recognition of the many service members who trained there. And, thanks to President Obama, the California desert is home to three new monuments that tell important stories about Native American culture and the iconic history of Route 66.
On Jan. 12, President Obama added to this legacy by designating five new National Monuments before concluding his time in office. In California and Oregon, he expanded the California Coastal National Monument and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
In Alabama, he established the Freedom Riders National Monument and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, as well as the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina. These newest monuments in Alabama and South Carolina will commemorate our nation’s civil rights history and help future generations remember and learn about this complex time in our country. It also ensures that our national parks, monuments and other public lands reflect the diversity of the United States itself.
The legacy of the Antiquities Act — so deeply rooted in our country’s history — is being entrusted to new leadership in Washington, D.C. If confirmed, Rep. Ryan Zinke, nominee for secretary of the Interior, will be responsible for stewarding our public lands for the coming years. He will have the opportunity to continue what Teddy Roosevelt started more than 100 years ago and preserve our country’s natural, cultural and historic treasures.
I hope to hear a public commitment from Rep. Zinke that he will support our country’s newest national monuments and all our parks and public lands that have been protected by the Antiquities Act. Next time I’m out in the California desert, I’ll give thanks for the continued preservation of our special places and recommit myself to advocating for these lands. I’m proud to be a part of this effort and encourage others to do so as well.
Jocelyn Giron is a resident of Victorville and a student at Victor Valley College. She is a member of El Nuevo Comienzo Church.