Continuing south into the San Bernardino National Forest, a new national monument was designated in 2016 to better protect essential migration corridors for species and one of the most impressive botanical diversities in the continental US: the Sand to Snow National Monument. Spreading across 154,000 acres (62,300 ha), its territory goes from the high mountains of the San Gorgonio Wilderness within the San Bernardino National Forest, to the Sonoran desert extension in the Coachella Valley (this map by Mojave Monuments contains more details than the BLM one). The southern part of the Sand to Snow monument is managed by the BLM, working together with The Wildlands Conservancy, a California organization which runs the largest nonprofit nature preserve system in the state. The Wildlands Conservancy played an instrumental role in the creation of the national monument, and continues to run three private preserves which act as access points into Sand to Snow. The most popular preserve to the south is the Whitewater, adjacent to the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Here you can find a perfect spot for a day visit to cool down in the Whitewater river, a parking area from where you can get your permit to backpack into the San Gorgonio Wilderness, a free campground and a well equipped visitor center which often hosts events and guided walks. A popular trail which runs along a section of the PCT is a 27-mile one-way trail known as the “Nine Peaks Challenge”, which if done in the winter will take you quite literally from the desert’s sand to the snow-capped peaks of the San Bernardino Range, including the San Gorgonio Peak — the highest in Southern California at 11,000 ft (3,352 m). We hiked in the preserve and in the national monument in mid-fall, but if you go there in spring the desert floor will be blanketed by colorful wildflowers and some snow might still be visible on the highest peaks. During a sunset walk around the campground at the Whitewater Preserve we spotted our first bobcat in the wild and witnessed a vicious fight between two large male western fence lizards. The ponds around the visitor center are also a great birding spot, and the nearby cliff sides are often visited by bighorn sheep, black bears and the occasional mountain lion. The Wildlands Conservancy purchased the land for the Whitewater Preserve from a fish hatchery operation and has been working to restore its natural habitats and provide travelers with an educational visit. Not too far from Whitewater, in the southeastern part of the monument, lies another preserve managed by the BLM and supported initially by The Nature Conservancy: the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. This one protects a vital birding habitat and fragile wetlands which can be explored via some well marked trails during day hikes. The visitor center run by volunteers has some good information regarding the species you can encounter here. On the northern part of the monument, inside the San Bernardino National Forest, there are many camping options and numerous trailheads. Another popular hike to access the tallest peak, the San Gorgonio, is the short but steep Vivian Creek trail. You’ll find additional accommodation, food, gas and shopping options along the way in the San Bernardino National Forest, and to the south you’ll be within reach of the Greater Palm Springs touristy region, with iconic towns like Palm Springs and Coachella. The eastern boundary of Sand to Snow neighbors Joshua Tree National Park. While hiking in Sand to Snow you’ll find yourself in remote places with harsh conditions and with very little water available, therefore take the advice given at visitor centers very seriously, while enjoying a wonderful and fragile wilderness that protects an important transition zone among various ecosystems (read the Presidential Proclamation of the national monument for a greater appreciation and understanding).
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