Does the rocky path taken by Mojave National Preserve from a neglected space to a protected place have implications for the future of the park? In an era of tightening federal budgets and widespread uncertainty, even the most storied national parks cannot see a future entirely free of difficulty. Fortunately for Preserve staff, some challenges that plagued Mojave in the early days of the park are unlikely to be problems in the future. The difficult tasks of creating a park where none existed before have largely been completed. The focus of park managers and employees on community relations has paid off; animosity of locals and inholders has been greatly reduced, and as a result the likelihood of another politically executed local revolt such as the Dollar Budget incident is now remote. Instead, other elements of the park's past promise to cloud the picture.
The future of Mojave National Preserve is inextricably bound to the two factors that created the park and have motivated management decisions from the beginning: increased population growth in the desert Southwest, especially in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas, and the eternal negotiation and compromise over the meaning of the Preserve and the purpose of the actual place that bears that designation. The pressures of population growth will likely lead to ever-larger visitor numbers, with concomitant demand for increased visitor services such as campgrounds, interpretive programs, trails, and exhibits. Naturally, the park will also need to extend its maintenance and visitor protection activities to cope with the larger visitor load. Gateway communities at Baker, Goffs, Nipton, Essex, Needles, Primm, and Barstow may develop private services and companies to cater to a wide spectrum of visitor expectations, from day-use sightseeing to backcountry wilderness expeditions. Rapid growth of the urban places outside the boundaries of the Preserve will have greater consequences beyond providing ever-larger numbers of visitors. The Cadiz water project was conceived as a response to the perceived water needs of Los Angeles, and while the plan itself is on hold, the desires of Angelenos for green lawns continues unabated. The Ivanpah Airport project with its potential impacts on the natural quiet of the park is a response to the expanding transportation requirements of greater Las Vegas, and expansion of Interstate 15 or increased railroad traffic through the Preserve are also conceivable in the future. The bright lights of Las Vegas, Laughlin, and of Primm at the state line will increasingly degrade the quality of Mojave's nighttime darkness, and air pollution blown from the metropoles will haze the Preserve's vistas.
While urban growth poses challenges to the integrity of the park's resources, other questions will be prompted by the continuing struggle to understand what precisely constitutes a "preserve." Mojave National Preserve is an unusual park, to be sure. The place is certainly parklike. It features craggy mountain peaks, huge sweeping valleys, alien cinder cones, and Joshua tree forests, the whole populated with exotic plants and animals as small as bacteria and as large as bighorn, all supremely adapted to their ecosystem. There are notes of jarring discord, however: among those parklike features are views that seem to spoil the tableau - gigantic open pit mines mar the mountains, bright steel electric-line towers leapfrog the valleys, huge notches and mining roads spoil the hulking cinder cones, and cattle with horns dumbly graze around the spiky Joshua trees.
The landscape of Mojave National Preserve reflects human work in a naked, obvious manner, and therein lies its value. Practically from the beginning of the appreciation of American spaces as worthy of preservation, those most treasured - America's national parks - have been artificially empty, seemingly devoid of the works of humanity. The existence of sacred, beautiful, untouched, empty spaces also implies the reverse - that places with people or their modifications are profane and ugly, not worthy of care. This idea formed the core of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which "for the permanent good of the whole people" declared that wilderness was "an area where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."  The explicit choice provided by the law - "earth and its community of life" versus "man" - reinforces the idea that man and nature are mutually exclusive. We know that this myth is false, at the very least because it excludes the Native Americans that called the wilderness home well before the United States ever existed, but places like Mojave National Preserve force the point in a vivid way. Considered broadly, the Preserve's designation was a result of a compromise between those who saw only parklike resources and those who believed that the land had been used by humans long enough and intensely enough to disqualify it as a park. Today, the Preserve lands show their heritage as places where prehistoric and modern humans lived and worked yet are still beautiful and worthy of our consideration and protection. If Mojave National Preserve and other places like it can help humans recognize that all places are precious, regardless of the changes perpetuated on them by earlier generations, then perhaps we might treat all of our spaces, urban and rural, with greater respect. 
Last Updated: 05-Apr-2004