Desert Peaks: Then and Now

In late 1952, Sierra Club member Bill Henderson roused excitement during a New Year's party for the Club's Desert Peaks section for an adventurous hike into the Coxcomb Mountains in present-day Joshua Tree National Park.  Written up in the Sierra Club Bulletin and Desert Magazine, the desert explorers reached the roughly 4400 foot high summit without trails.  As Louise Werner wrote in the May 1953 issue of Desert Magazine, "[t]he view to the southeast encouraged speculation and planning for future climbs. Range after range of desert mountains stretched as far as we could see: the Palens, the Granites, the Little Marias, the Big Marias.  Like an undulating carpet of chocolate-brown velvet, they stretched to the vanishing point."

The hikers on their way into the Coxcomb Mountain range, just north of Desert Center, California. Photo from the May, 1953 issue of Desert Magazine. Photo by Niles Werner, article by Louise Werner.
Today, that same view is threatened by both climate change and industrial-scale renewable energy projects.  Developers have plans -- or have already begun construction -- on solar projects in many of the valleys in view from the Coxcomb summit, including the Palen, Genesis, Blythe, and McCoy solar power projects.  These projects alone would bulldoze over 25 square miles of desert habitat and sites of cultural significance to Native Americans.

From the town of Desert Center, the Coxcomb mountains might not be visible on a windy day, thanks to  construction of First Solar's Desert Sunlight project.  A resident of Desert Center shared the photo below on Facebook of a dust storm at the Desert Sunlight solar project.  If the topsoil had not been removed by First Solar's tractors to make way for solar panels, the Coxcomb Mountains that inspired an adventurous hike in 1953 would be visible in the background.

Clouds of dust obscure the view of the Coxcomb Mountains from Desert Center. Photo by Donna Charpied.

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