Just another day at the office for BLM wilderness rangers


May 17, 2001|By KEVIN MARTY, Staff Photographer

The combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom has done wonders for Jacumba Jim Canyon. If there is one thing that makes Jacumba Jim Canyon stand out from the rest, it's the water.

The water here isn't drink-able, boat-able, swim-able or fish-able; it doesn't even make noticeable noise as it trickles through the canyon. It is, however, capable of transforming a perhaps ordinary desert canyon into an extraordinary one. Artifacts of ancient people attest to the longevity of the canyon's attraction to people: chips of pottery that predate Spanish exploration of the Valley; morteros etched into granitic boulders once used for grinding seeds into flour.

Grass carpets the bottom of the canyon in areas, interrupted by palm oases and rocky slopes where water seems to be nudged over the top and forms miniature waterfalls as gravity pulls it toward the canyon floor. During certain times of the year, plant blooms contrast the usual desert brown landscape with lemon-yellow brittle bush, lavender hedgehog and orange-red ocotillo, to name a few.


The canyon is a water stop for bighorn sheep, deer, fox and other animals but a more subtle existence is found if you hike patiently though the canyon. The ponds are full of life. When examined closely, snakes can be found suspended in pond water; mosquitoes buzz the surface and touch down like at a remote, uncontrolled runway, casting footprint-like shadows on the pond floor; and frogs harmonize from seemingly unknown locations but quiet during human intrusion.

Not a typical office setting, but for wilderness rangers Brian Murdock and Brian Spitek, it's not a typical job. They work managing 10 wilderness areas for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, El Centro office. Most of these are in Imperial County and total 240,000 acres.

"Our desert wilderness areas are very unique, ranging from the vast windswept dunes to the pinyon juniper high country in the Jacumba Mountains," said Murdock.

Wilderness areas are special areas managed for naturalness and for opportunities of solitude and primitive recreation. They were established under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

While wilderness rangers spend their fair share of time keyboarding a computer, their field days are extraordinary.

"There is no ordinary field day. One day we may be hauling chain saws five miles into a remote canyon to cut tamarisk, another day could be a four-day backpack trip to monitor rock art panels or hauling 50 pounds of fencing material on your back into a site to construct a temporary around water holes," said Murdock.

Most of the wilderness areas are readily accessible by Imperial County residents.

"The residents of Imperial County are fortunate to have these special areas located in their county. Most of these areas are within one hour's drive from the population bases in the Valley. As our lives become more complicated and busy, it is important that we have areas that remain truly wild, places where anyone can go and be away from civilization. It is a very powerful experience to be surrounded by country that shows no sign of man's work, only raw nature. Experiencing these wild places is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of recreation available. There are no fees or permits required to visit BLM wilderness areas in Imperial County. Just grab a map, drive to the boundary and walk in," said Murdock.

Information on wilderness areas in Imperial County can be obtained from the El Centro BLM office at 1661 S. 4th St. or by calling 337-4400.

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