In November 1995, the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee closed escrow on the purchase of Blackwater Well Ranch. Purchase of this 1,360 acres of desert tortoise Critical Habitat, in the central Mojave Desert, completed the single largest land transaction in the Committee’s then 25-year history. The Committee made the purchase in cooperation with another conservation organization, The Wildlands Conservancy. More significant than the ranch land itself, the acquired habitat serves as the “base property” for a 49,000 acre (76.6 square miles) cattle grazing allotment on federal land. As part of the purchase, the Preserve Committee acquired all grazing privileges, water rights, structures, and range improvements.
Known as Pilot Knob, the allotment is located 25 miles southeast of Ridgecrest and 23 miles east of the eastern boundary of the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area in San Bernardino County, California. The allotment extends from 2600 ft in saltbush scrub through diverse creosote bush scrub and needlegrass steppe, to Joshua tree grasslands and blackbrush to 4687 ft on high mesas.
Blackwater Well itself has played an important role in California’s past. The well, is a natural seep created by the Blackwater Fault. It provides one of the few year-round water sources in an otherwise arid region. Human use and occupation in the area spans a period from 1200 B.C. to the present.
Over one hundred years ago, Blackwater Well was a staging post on the famous Twenty Mule Team Road. As recorded by reporter John Spears in 1892, Blackwater Well was one of three “wet stops” along route 4 of the 20 Mule Team Borax Wagon Road. This celebrated road was created by the Pacific Borax Company in 1883 to allow borax to be hauled 164 miles from mines in Death Valley to the railhead at Mojave. As the well is not situated directly on the wagon road, water was piped a half mile to the roadside tank. The borax wagons stopped rumbling through Blackwater Well in 1887, and cattle and sheep ranching became the primary human use of the area.
The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee is actively working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Naval Air Weapons Station to develop interim and long-term management programs to promote recovery of desert tortoise populations, Critical Habitat, and ecosystems in general within the allotment. The existing water tanks, pipelines, and windmills offer numerous opportunities for manipulative research on restoring cattle-grazed desert habitats.
The Committee is seeking volunteers and monetary support for this challenging project.
For more information about the Pilot Knob venture read: