The Myth of the "Fragile" Desert
By Don Fife
It is widely perceived by the proponents of S. 7 that the
California Desert is "fragile." To most anyone who has lived and
worked in the desert over a long period of the time, this is a very debatable
perception. Most long term residents of the desert know that the vast majority
of it's surface is soft, erodable, alluvial soil, covering up to as much as 70%
of the CDCA. The desert soil is frequently subject to flash floods, debris and
mudflows, and rillwash, all which generally prevent development of mature soils.
Thus, the majority of the desert is subject to natural restoration of the
surface by frequent reworking and burial of soils by cloudbursts and wind-
storms. Rainfall is the controlling geologic factor for the expected duration of
most vehicle tracks and shallow surface disturbances in most areas. Proof of
this is the natural restoration of the extensive military impacts that covered
the desert at the end of World War II.
For example, General Patton had more than 38,000 armored vehicles, their support
equipment, and up to 190,000 troops on continuous maneuvers in the eastern
Mohave Desert for 3.5 years during the 1940's. These troops trained and rotated
through almost every corner of the desert and, today, only a small percentage of
their impact can be seen. The millions of bomb craters, miles of vehicle tracks,
and other military impacts have been eroded or covered by the action of blowing
sand, rainfall and flash floods, and re-vegetation on dynamic alluvial fans have
destroyed most of the original disturbance.
Thus, when many misinformed observers come to the desert to photograph the few
remnants of former impacts and display these photos as "proof" that
the desert never "heals" or restores itself, they make the mistake
that the desert as a whole can not restore itself, where in fact, only the
isolated, upland surfaces retain the impacts of its history.
Aside from the natural restoration of bomb craters, targets, and vehicle tracks,
there is spectacular natural restoration of giant desiccation fissures on the
desert dry lakes (playas) throughout the desert. Pumping of ground water or
natural lowering of the water table beneath the dry lakes has allowed the clay
deposits composing the dry lakes to dry out. This is very similar to the
polygonal cracks that form when a mud puddle dries up after a rain, except that
the dimensions of the polygons are much greater on dry lakes where the polygonal
cracks may be thousands of feet across and ten to hundreds of feet deep.
Erosion commonly creates giant caverns downward toward the water table. These
features are far more spectacular than shallow vehicle tracks or bomb craters,
yet periodic storms that fill the dry lakes after cloud bursts may completely
restore an unblemished dry lake surface. The lake is restored without a trace of
fissuring, perhaps for years before the cycle is repeated.
A small percentage of upland terraces or isolated surfaces may be slow to heal,
but most of the desert is in fact subject to rather rapid natural restoration.
The very arid condition and lack of protective vegetation subjects the desert
surface to tremendous natural forces of rain and wind erosion. The proponents of
S. 7 claim large quantities of soil are disturbed by vehicles, but when their
volumes are compared to the volumes moved by natural forces, they become
U.S. Army M-4 Tanks at California Desert Training Center
Some of General Patton's more than 38.000+ armored vehicles were on continuous
maneuvers in the eastern Mojave Desert for 3.5 years during WW II. On isolated
upland surfaces some tracks remain, however, flash floods, blown sand and
re-vegetation on dynamic alluvial fans have
destroyed most of the original disturbance. The millions of bomb and shell
impact craters were stripped of all scrap metal shortly after WW II. Each impact
made a hole in the desert, the wind deposited sand and seeds in these
depressions which filled with water during the first
cloudburst. Each impact became a “flowerpot". In many places the wind
deposited sand around the new clump of sagebrush . . . ultimately re-placing the
original depression with a small mound of sage and sand ! !
Note: Contrary to the beliefs of the ENDANGERED SPECIES ESTABLISHMENT, the
Desert Tortoise (Copherus aqassizii), thrives in many of the desert valleys
impacted by the massive military maneuvers of the Second World War!
Geologist, Non-Renewable Resources Consultant
NATIONAL INHOLDERS ASSOCIATION
This was the largest Army base in the world covering some
18,000 square miles. It stretched from the outskirts of Pomona, California
eastward to within 50 miles of Phoenix, Arizona, southward to the suburbs of
Yuma, Arizona and northward into the southern tip of Nevada.
Map of the Desert Training Center, California-Arizona Maneuver Area
Between 800,000 and 1,000,000 soldiers prepared for warfare
at the CAMA. Camp Young was the administrative headquarters and the focal
point of the maneuvers area for General Patton's 3rd Armored Division. The
overwhelming focus of the training was on tank warfare.
Almost all the land acquired for the California - Arizona
Maneuver Area was declared surplus by the War Department on 16 March 1944.
The land acquired for the Camp Young site was relinquished on 14 January
1947 to the Department of the Interior by Public Land Order No. 342. The
Camp Young site consists of 3,279.89 acres.
Closed Sand Dunes within the California-Arizona Maneuver Area:
It is funny how these dunes could have been so trammeled by
tanks and other Army vehicles in the 1940's, but then "pristine"
enough to need protection from vehicles today.
Desert Training Center, California-Arizona Maneuver Area - BLM website
Willys Jeep at the Desert Training Center - Indio, CA, June 1942
Troop train carrying tanks and 2 1/2 ton truck headed to the Desert Training
Center in Indio, CA in mid-April 1942.
Desert Training Center - Indio, California - 1942
Unless otherwise noted, these photos are drawn from the
immense collections of the U.S. Government in the National Archives, the
archives of the military services, and compilations of these photos maintained
by universities, libraries and foundations. Such photos and posters are in the
public domain and may be used for any lawful purpose. Source - www.olive-drab.com.
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