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Sand to Snow National Monument

A photo of a bald eagle perched on top of a snow-covered tree.

On February 11, 2016, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring the Sand to Snow National Monument east of Los Angeles in Southern California.

The 154,000-acre monument extends from Bureau of Land Management lands on the Sonoran desert floor up to over 10,000 feet in the San Gorgonio Wilderness on the San Bernardino National Forest.

The striking diversity of lands within this monument is breathtaking – they are filled with the stories of ancient peoples, soaring mountain peaks, critical wildlife corridors and rich biological diversity. They also offer a wide variety of recreation opportunities for urban populations living close to the shadows of these majestic mountain peaks – the San Gorgonio Mountain region serves as an important recreational hub for 24 million people living within a two-hour drive of the area.

These unique and impressive characteristics sparked the President’s use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish the Sand to Snow National Monument.

The Sand to Snow National Monument will be co-managed by the U.S. Forest Service (71,000 acres on the San Bernardino National Forest) and the Bureau of Land Management (83,000 acres of the California Desert District). Within the monument boundary, both agencies manage approximately 101,000 acres as Wilderness.

Geologic Drama: Long Shadows on the Desert Floor

A photo of a big horn sheep resting on a rock.

Photo courtesy of Tom McIntosh

The focal point of the Sand to Snow National Monument is the 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain, which rises sharply from the Sonoran Desert floor and is the highest peak in California south of the Sierra Nevada. This mountain is one of eleven peaks that are over 10,000 feet in elevation in the southeast portion of the San Bernardino Mountains. The area has some of the most rugged and steep topography in Southern California, with steep slopes culminating in a granite ridge over seven miles long and two miles high.

Habitat Linkages — an Ecological Social Network

The Sand to Snow National Monument is an incredibly diverse protected area with a wide range of ecosystems ranging from lowland Mojave and Colorado deserts, riparian forests, creosote bush scrub and woodlands, fresh water marshes, Mediterranean chaparral and alpine conifer forests. Hundreds of springs rise to the surface at South Fork Meadows, the origin of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River.

The San Gorgonio Wilderness contains large un-fragmented habitat areas with no roads, and serves as an important habitat linkage area between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges.

The area has been important to biological and ecological research, as well as studies of climate and land use change, and the impact of fire and invasive species management. The area has a remarkable species richness that makes it one of the most biodiverse areas in southern California.

Twelve federally listed threatened and endangered animal species live in this dramatic landscape, which is also famous for its oases frequented by over 240 species of birds. The area is home to the southern-most stand of Quaking Aspen trees and habitat for the California spotted owl. There are also two research natural areas, one with relatively undisturbed vegetation that provides excellent wildlife habitat including one of the highest densities of black bear habitats in Southern California. 

Sacred Heritage — Where “The People Who Came Before” Visited

Photo of the snow-topped San Gorgiono and San Bernardino mountain peaks.

Several Indian tribes of Southern California considered San Gorgonio Mountain one of their sacred places. The Serrano and Cahuilla Indian people lived at the base of San Gorgonio Mountain, and came to the mountains to gather food, medicinal plants, basket making material and to hunt deer and other animals. The San Gorgonio Pass served as a major trade route that led from Arizona to the California coast.

The Cahuilla Indian people from Palm Springs talked about “the people who came before.” It was said that these ancient ancestors could fly, and San Gorgonio Mountain was one of several sacred peaks in Southern California where the ancient ancestors visited. The Luiseño Indian people, whose territory lies 50 miles to the south, considered San Gorgonio Mountain sacred and the older brother of Mount San Jacinto; both peaks were considered among the first born of Earth Mother.

In the late 1700s, Spanish missionaries built Rancho San Gorgonio, the easternmost outpost of the San Gabriel Mission. After the Holcomb Valley gold rush of 1860, ranchers used the area for grazing sheep, horses, and cattle. Old driveways, watering holes, and campsites remain a part of the landscape today. Although not particularly successful, many miners prospected in the southeastern portions of the San Bernardino Mountains. Evidence still remains in the form of old cabins, mine shafts, prospecting pits and refuse deposits.

By the mid-1920s, drastic changes had occurred, and the area began attracting 75,000 to 100,000 people annually to the San Bernardino Mountains for recreation and outdoor enjoyment. It was during this time that the movement to protect this unique area began.

Recreation – from Backpacking to Stargazing

The San Gorgonio Wilderness on the San Bernardino National Forest is the number one visited wilderness in Southern California, attracting over 50,000 annual visits to this wild area.

The Sand to Snow National Monument includes 30 miles of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. The area is well known in the hiking community for the “Nine Peaks Challenge” a grueling all-day 27-mile hike that gains over 8,300 feet in elevation across nine peaks. Cross country skiers enjoy the San Gorgonio Mountains in the winter.

A series of preserves owned by the Wildlands Conservancy are managed for public access and serve as entry points from the north, south, and east of the monument. Visitors enjoy camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing, horse packing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, stargazing, mountain biking, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude.

Local communities within the monument area offer rental cabins, private organizational camps and restaurants. Forest Falls sits at the base of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and hosts two very popular Forest Service trailheads leading into the San Gorgonio Wilderness, a large day use area and nearby waterfalls attract many visitors. The community of Angelus Oaks also features the popular San Bernardino Peak trailhead.

More information about Sand to Snow National Monument from the Bureau of Land Management.

More information about Sand to Snow National Monument News & Events.


Love Your Monument – Help with the Plan and/or Plan Your Adventure!

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will soon start working on a management plan for the new Sand to Snow National Monument.  Public involvement will be critical to developing a successful plan for this new Monument.  If you would like to be included in the process, please contact the San Bernardino National Forest at (909) 382-2600.

In the meantime, there is so much to see and do in the Sand to Snow National Monument. Whether you have a day, a weekend or a week, plan an adventure and explore this new Monument and start creating your own stories in this special place.

Other Forest Service-managed national monuments:

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