RENO, Nev. (AP) — Local tribes and national conservation groups are lobbying to establish a fourth national monument in southern Nevada that would preserve Indigenous cultural sites and critical environmental habitat.
The proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument would protect nearly 600 square miles east of the Mojave Desert in southern Clark County.
The Wilderness Society, the National Parks Conservation Association and local tribes are working together to achieve the land designation, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.
"I call this the crossroads of the America West. Almost everything that happened in westward expansion happened in this landscape," said Alan O'Neill, an advisor to the National Parks Conservation Association and former superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Avi Kwa Ame is Mojave for "Spirit Mountain." The mountain and surrounding area are sacred to multiple tribes, including Yuman-speaking tribes, Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute.
Spirit Mountain is the Yuman tribes' spiritual birthplace and figures prominently within their ideology. The Hopi and Chemehuevi also consider the mountain a sacred site.
"This is a place where our god lives," said Linda Otero, director of the Aha Makav Cultural Society and former council member Fort Mojave tribe. "It touches our lives in every which way."
In 1999, Spirit Mountain and 75 square miles surrounding the mountain were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property. At the time, it was the largest traditional cultural property in the country. But, the designation only included the mountain, not surrounding landscapes.
Since then, two wind projects have threatened the area, and sprawl from Las Vegas continues to creep toward the mountain.
Both wind projects were tabled. But "rather than wait for the next bad project, we decided to be more proactive," O'Neil said.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and other state politicians plan to include the property as part of the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act lands bill. The draft version of the bill expands Clark County's development boundaries by more than 65 square miles (168 square km) but balances it by creating 480 square miles (1,243 square km) of new wilderness area.
The designation would connect the Mojave National Preserve, Castle Mountains and Mojave Tails national monuments, Dead Mountains Wilderness Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Colorado Plateau. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation, it includes the South McCullough Wilderness Area and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area.
The land includes natural springs and petroglyphs and critical habitat for desert tortoise and golden and bald eagles. It serves as a migratory corridor for desert bighorn sheep.
The property is also home to the oldest and largest Joshua trees in the world, some more than 900 years old.
It also houses the historic Mojave Trail, a 138-mile (222-kilometer) stretch located in the southernmost part of the area used by Mojave and other Native peoples to transport goods with the Chumash and other coastal tribes, and Fort Piute, a former military outpost along the road.
In the mid-20th century, Hollywood stars Rex Bell and Clara Bow constructed the Walking Box Ranch seven miles west of Searchlight, also located on the proposed monument land. Bell starred in western films such as "The Cowboy Kid" and "Tombstone" and served as the state's lieutenant governor from 1955 until his death in 1962.
The ranch is a large Spanish Colonial Revival style home that also includes a large cactus garden and outbuildings. The ranch was a hangout for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Errol Flynn, and John Wayne and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
"We're excited," O'Neill said. "We can protect both the cultural and natural landscape all in one."