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January 16
1926 - Newhall Community Hospital, est. 1922, opens in larger, more modern hospital building at 6th & Spruce streets [story]


Commentary by Linda Castro
| Thursday, Jan 14, 2016
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LindaCastroNumerous Santa Clarita Valley residents travel to Death Valley National Park each year by way of Highway 190, which intersects with Highway 395 in Olancha. While on their way to the park, they drive past an area named Lower Centennial Flat. As they drive by, they might look out of their vehicle window and think they are looking at a barren wasteland, but they just are not looking close enough.

Lower Centennial Flat, located south of Highway 190 between Olancha and Panamint Springs, might not look like much when one drives by, but it is a special place. Not much larger than about 9 square miles, Lower Centennial Flat is home to more than 45 different species of plants and animals including the threatened Mohave ground squirrel, Costa’s hummingbird and the Death Valley sandpaper-plant. Most importantly, the area holds a dense forest of Joshua trees.

The area has many large Joshua trees and is a “nursery” for numerous young Joshua trees. Scientists started seeing these young Joshua trees more frequently in the past 15 to 20 years, and they believe the species is moving to higher elevations – such as what Lower Centennial Flat has to offer – as the climate warms. As such, the area will likely be critically important to the survival of the species with global warming.

The primary reason for the abundance of life is Black Springs. There are two springs at the site that support the area’s wildlife – one high on the west side of the canyon and the other in the bottom of the canyon.

desert02The area is also culturally significant. It is important ancestral land for the Paiute and Shoshone tribes. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe currently owns 640 acres in the Lower Centennial Flat area. The Bureau of Land Management, which manages all but the tribal lands in the region, has recorded 82 archaeological sites in the area. Nearly 95 percent of them were prehistoric sites containing bedrock metates and mortar pits, rock art panels and other evidence of prehistoric life. The remaining sites relate to much more recent history – the mining era of the 19th Century.

Finally, there is a “hidden” pop culture treasure in the area. In 1987, the rock band U2 released their album, “Joshua Tree.” The Joshua tree they used for the album was photographed in the Lower Centennial Flat area. When people discovered this fact, they began to travel to that location from all over the country and the world to visit the tree.

The tree has since died, but the site remains. People continue to visit, leaving wooden and ceramic plaques, guitars, U2 albums (in the metal suitcase also located at the site), and numerous other items. The site is marked with a concrete and bronze plaque that asks, “Have you found what you’re looking for?”

Lower Centennial Flat, like so many other areas in the Mojave Desert, offers much more than what you can see while driving by on the highway. The lesson: Get out of your car and experience the desert up close. You will be glad you did.

 

Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover.  She is the Desert Field Organizer for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club.  Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.

 

 

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