Pipes Canyon Preserve is, by just about any visitor account of the place, one of the Hi-Desert's most scenic and interesting wildlands locations. Tucked up against the San Bernardino Mountains, it is a transition zone where different natures meet and combine resources to form a landscape of continual topographical surprise and biological diversity.
Owned and operated by the non-profit Wildlands Conservancy, the preserve covers 40 square miles of ruggedly picturesque country which is framed in even greater area by National Forest lands where they drop down from the mountains above.
Located at some distance from the main Morongo Basin thoroughfare, its semi-remoteness makes the preserve one of the least well-known of the local attractions. “An undiscovered niche,” is what preserve manager April Sall calls it.
Although she and her management team are committed first and foremost to preserving the wild nature of the place, they are also busy planning for the preserve's greater exposure in the public view. Even more eagerly, they are planning also for its increased use as a particularly rare exhibit for environmental education purposes.
What the preserve has that sets it apart from so many other natural settings in the Hi-Desert is the presence of Pipes Canyon Creek.
Even though this channel doesn't always flow with surface water, it is productive enough of a moisture influence, either above or below surface, to support a reasonably constant arid land riparian zone. In addition to the Joshua tree woodland and the piñon-juniper plant communities on the property, and the many related animal habitats they support, the preserve also includes a streamside community of plants and animals that are most conspicuous in contrast to the drier, immediately neighboring ecosystems.
According to Sall, most of the education programs at the preserve will be defined to some extent by the property's rugged character. Indeed, the steep terrain will somewhat limit the range of interpretive hikes. However, steepness also serves the nature of the place in many ways.
It is responsible for the deep crevice of the canyon proper, for instance, where many small, specialty habitats are formed on the cliffsides. Steepness increases the role gravity plays in the canyon's hydrology and this, in turn, helps shape the canyon and make its bed a tumbled repository for large stones. All of these effects, in further turn, make an environment that is more or less favorable for certain types of plants and animals.
“Walking the canyon puts you in direct contact with nature,” Sall pronounces, and she may be as qualified as anyone to make such a statement. She's been walking the canyon and hillsides since childhood owing to the fact her grandmother homesteaded there many years ago and her family retained use of the old place well into her childhood.
Having received the first Wildlands Conservancy scholarship to college where she completed studies in biology, Sall is literally on home ground as the preserve manager. Although she has no more private ownership privilege in the place, she's pleased with the opportunity to help implement the Wildlands Conservancy's goals there to preserve its native state.
Plans for the place include adding to the education and ranger staff, building a volunteer program, establishing active relationships with local schools, adding a weekend interpretive program for families, and just generally getting the word out. Sall is optimistic that once her team's programs are up and running and more people start to discover the preserve, Pipes Canyon will soon be on everybody's priority list of Hi-Desert places to see.
After all, she's not in the least timid to declare, “this is a great place.”
The Wildlands Conservancy's mission is: “To preserve the beauty and biodiversity of the earth, and to fund programs so that every child may know the wonder and joy of nature.” Established in 1995, it has purchased and set aside for preservation almost 800,000 acres of wild lands.
For more information on Pipes Canyon Preserve, call 369-7105.