The History of the Desert Explorers - The "Short", Condensed Version
by Bob Jaussaud
The Desert Explorers of the Mojave River Valley Museum came into being early in 1995. The first Desert Explorer Newsletter was published April/May 1995 and the leaders listed included: Sue & I, Bill Neill, Neal & Marian Johns, Bob Martin, Jay Lawrence, Ann Fulton, Ken Sears, Betty Wallin, and Anne Duffield & George Stoll. These are the folks who brought the Desert Explorers into being. Within two months their leadership ranks had swelled to include: Tom Church, Allen Romspert and Dwight Stroud.
The Desert Explorers could be considered a reincarnation of the Sierra Club Backroad Explorers minus the Sierra Club. When the California Desert Bill was passed in 1994, without the needed refinements that the Backroad Explorers worked for and supported, many members of the Backroad Explorers resigned from the Sierra Club. This group would become the core of the Desert Explorers. At the start of 1995, Bill Neill approached me (as the Head Rabble-Rouser) and suggested that, instead of allowing our group to disintegrate, we might find a parent organization other than the Sierra Club. When asked where we might find such an organization, Bill suggested the Mojave River Valley Museum. Bill even went so far as to get us on the agenda for their next management meeting. We had a strong showing from our core group, which included several key folks (like Bob & Marilyn Martin) who had previously refused to join us while we were affiliated with the Sierra Club.
The Mojave River Valley Museum already had an outings organization, the "Mojave River Explorers", headed by Bill Mann. We weren't sure just how the maverick Backroad Explorers would fit in, but Bill was very much in favor of our joining the museum. He pointed out that his trips were almost all base camp oriented, where participants would "camp" in their trailers or motor homes at a pre-designated site. The Backroad Explorers, on the other hand, had usually used "running camps" where they slept in the back of their 4x4's or tents. Camps would pretty much be where "happy hour" found them. Bill Mann felt the museum would benefit from two distinct outings groups. Also, by then Bill's outings had become so popular that he was looking for alternatives to suggest. As it turned out, many museum members participated with both groups, so Bill's outings only grew. Bill was ably assisted by Gene Stoops, who eventually took over the Mojave River Explorers outings.
Since technically the Sierra Club had the rights to the "Backroad Explorers" name, we renamed ourselves the "Desert Explorers". Bill Mann's support of the new "Desert Explorers of the Mojave River Valley Museum" was crucial. From the beginning, it was a wonderful relationship with Bill and it is still a wonderful relationship with the Mojave River Valley Museum today. Hopefully, the Desert Explorers will remain viable for a long, long time.
Still want to know more details? The following is our full history:
History of the Backroad and Desert Explorers - The Long, Detailed Version
The 1980s were a turbulent and wonderful time on the Mojave Desert. The Friends of the Mojave Road were starting work on the Ivanpah Loop (which was to become the Heritage Trail). The Sierra Club was formulating the Desert Bill, also known as Cranston's Senate Bill S.11 or Mel Levine's House version, H.R. 780. For a while, it seemed that everyone might work together to preserve the desert for the benefit of all. I had just retired from NBC, so Sue and I were, at last, able to spend a lot more time on the desert. We bought a brand new yellow 1984 4x4 Nissan truck and were looking forward to exploring. For years our focus had been boating on the Colorado River. Now we wanted to see more of the country only glimpsed when hurrying to "the river" on Route 66 (later I-40).
Sue and I paid our membership dues and became members of The Friends of the Mojave Road (FMR). We were sent information on the proposed route for the first segment of the Ivanpah Loop. On our own, at last, in our new truck, we struck out to explore the route, arriving in Nipton in time for the 1985 FMR Rendezvous. This is where we first met Neal Johns. A few years earlier, we had met Dennis Casebier, FMR founder, when he spoke at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Anyway, after a dubious start, we became good friends with Neal and spent many, many happy weekends exploring the desert with him. Getting back to the FMR Nipton Rendezvous, we were astonished to learn that the Sierra Club (SC) had sent some nasty communications to the FMR. Judy Anderson had written to the FMR accusing them of driving on "cattle trails" in otherwise roadless areas. Being a Sierra Club member myself and having a very good friend, Elden Hughes, on the SC Executive Committee, I took it upon myself to try and see if I could smooth the waters, so to speak, between the SC and the FMR. What an idealist I was back then.
A few words about my relationship with Elden Hughes might be appropriate here. I was only 6 or 7 years old when Elden came to our home for the first time to take my older sister, Joan, out for a date. Eventually, Elden and Joan married and raised three boys. I was only 11 years old when I became Uncle Bob. My favorite memories growing up were with Joan and Elden. As a family we were very close and spent a lot of time together. Elden was like an older brother to me. Later, after Sue and I were married, Elden and Joan helped us tow our first trailer over Route 66 to our place on the Colorado River. Eventually, they bought their own trailer to keep on our place and we became partners in a wooden ski boat. We enjoyed many trips together to play on the river and eventually started to explore the desert. The more we saw, the more we realized how much there was to see.
I was devastated when Joan and Elden separated, sometime in 1976. Elden remained very much a part of our family. Our friendship actually grew and we enjoyed even more trips together, to places like Black Canyon, Okefenokee Swamp, Andreas Canyon, Bowroon Loop and the Carson River. A favorite memory of mine is the rainy day Elden called me at work and said the Mojave River was flowing and to meet him at Cajon Summit so we could canoe through the Mojave Narrows. In the 70's we joined the Sierra Club, essentially for the SC outings. Elden went on to become very involved and I first learned of the Desert Bill through Elden.
So, back to the relations between the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Mojave Road. In October of 1985, I sent a letter to the Editor of the Southern Sierran basically saying that the SC and the FMR shared many interests and it was a shame they could not work together toward responsible desert protection. In November, I received a friendly response from Judy Anderson, a member of the SC Desert Committee. She maintained that the FMR Heritage Trail should not pass through any of the Sierra Club proposed wilderness areas, even though they were only "proposed" by the Sierra Club as wilderness areas. Traveling through these "Wilderness Study Areas", as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) called them, with motorized vehicles was completely legal on existing roads. Judy admitted that the Sierra Club and the BLM did not always agree on what constituted an "existing route of travel".
My November 21, 1985 response to Judy Anderson maintained the friendly facade, but I emphasized to her that motorized use on existing roads was legal and allowed in Wilderness Study Areas (WSA's) unless posted otherwise. I pointed out that the Friends of the Mojave Road advocated remaining on established roads and questioned where she felt the FMR had inappropriately used "cattle trails". In a February 1986 letter to me, Judy clarified that the "cattle trail" accusation came from an article that Spence Murray had written for a Mojave Road Report. She could not give an example of actual use of a "cattle trail" by the FMR and was, evidently, only trying to further her agenda by any means possible. If she had known her desert history a little better she might have realized that there are many historic "cattle trails" which were, and still are, major routes of travel. In that context, most of us travel "cattle trails" regularly.
We obtained maps of the Sierra Club desert proposals from Elden and by the end of 1986 Sue and I had become familiar with the extent of the SC proposed Desert Bill closures. Although we supported desert preservation, we felt the Desert Bill was too extensive and made access very difficult and almost impossible in some currently accessible areas. We were ready to quit the SC and conveyed our feelings to Elden and his, by then, steady companion, Patty Carpenter. Elden assured us that the Sierra Club expected to be required to negotiate away up to half of the proposed wilderness areas before the Desert Bill would become a reality. Interestingly, Bob Kane, Chairman of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, told Dale Van Dalsem, Angeles Chapter Desert Peaks Section Leader, essentially the same thing in a June 3, 1989 recorded phone conversation. It seems this was standard Sierra Club rhetoric intended to blunt opposition, from within the Sierra Club, to the Desert Bill. Sadly, the promised compromises were never to be.
Learning that Sue and I were thinking of quitting the Sierra Club, Patty suggested that we should attempt to work from within to get the Desert Bill refined. With Elden's support, Patty and I came up with the idea of a 4x4 committee of the Sierra Club. An organizational meeting was held at Elden's home in January 1987 to form a "Sierra Club 4-Wheel Drive Committee". In attendance were Elden Hughes, Patty Carpenter, Randy Bernard, Gene Olsen, Bill Bradley, Doug Fuhlrodt, Sue Jaussaud and myself. Doug got us on the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Council Agenda for January 26, 1987. Sue and I authored a workable preamble, purpose and credo and did the other necessary Sierra Club paperwork. Doug represented us to the SC Council and again to the SC Executive Committee. To our astonishment, on March 5, 1987 the Backroad Explorers 4x4 Committee of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club (BRE) became a reality. The officers were: Doug Fuhlrodt - Chair, Bob Jaussaud - Sec/Treas, John Maclean - Membership, Patty Carpenter - Programs, Randy Bernard - Outings and George Grosso - Conservation. Doug was a well respected and an experienced leader in the Sierra Club, so his willingness to chair our committee was crucial. The fact that Elden was Chairman of the Executive Committee (1985-88) probably helped a bit too.
Patty and I co-authored an article about the Backroad Explorers which was published in the Southern Sierran. An excerpt from that article reads, "The idea behind the Backroad Explorers was conceived quite naturally in the Mojave Desert. In so vast an area there is no practical way for most people to explore other than by using a four wheel drive vehicle. There are literality thousands of miles of "backroads" weaving to many extraordinary locations, so there is no need for anyone to travel "off road"." Another quote from that article says, "there has been a stigma attached to four wheel drive use. They have been too closely associated in peoples' minds with the destructive "off roader". The Backroad Explorers hope to dispel that image." If only we could have. We certainly tried. Eventually, though, the Sierra Club took advantage of that "stigma" and used it effectively against the BRE.
We became qualified Sierra Club Trip Leaders and, in April 1987, I led my provisional trip. Elden was my Assistant Leader and Evaluator. The trip was through the Turtle Mountains on a section of the East Mojave Heritage Trail, which is now closed by the Desert Bill. In addition to our other duties, we edited, published and distributed the newsletter until June of 1988 when John Maclean took over as BRE Newsletter Editor and I became the BRE Membership Chair while retaining my duties as Sec/Treas. Betty Wallin took over as BRE Secretary in October 1988.
The unpublished goal of the Backroad Explorers was to provided first hand information to the Sierra Club so that the Desert Bill could be modified to preserve legitimate access on existing roads. To that end, the BRE led many trips into the Desert Bill's proposed wilderness areas. Please note again that these areas were only proposed wilderness areas. They were, in fact, Bureau of Land Management Limited Use Areas where vehicle use was legal and allowed on existing roads. In fact, all BRE trips were on legal, established, mapped and documented roads. The trip reports were only partially published in the BRE Newsletter, but all our findings were relayed to Elden Hughes, who told me he was the person to give our information to. Our understanding was that he would relay our findings through the appropriate channels within the Sierra Club. Members of the BRE assumed they were providing valid, much needed and appreciated input for the Desert Bill. We were to learn, too late, that we were wrong, as Elden was not forwarding our input. We will never completely know why he stonewalled the BRE in this respect and will always wonder what could have been if he had forwarded our information as he had indicated he would do.
Preservation of the Kelso Depot became an issue around this time. It involved all of us and should be mentioned in any history of the era. The Kelso Depot is a historic 1925 railroad station in the middle of the Mojave Desert. With the advent of diesel locomotives, the station was no longer needed to service steam locomotives and had been effectively abandoned. By the 1980's, the Union Pacific was threatening to tear it down. Everyone who had ever stumbled onto the Kelso Depot felt it should be restored and preserved. For once, even the Sierra Club was not opposed and Patty Carpenter and Elden Hughes got involved. The Kelso Depot Fund was incorporated by Marie Brashear (of the California Desert Coalition - opponents of the Desert Bill) and Bob Ausmus (owner of the Cima Store and reporter for the Baker Valley News). A brochure was created and distributed in an effort to involve the general public. Desert artist Carl Faber did the artwork, Bob Ausmus wrote the text and the Baker Valley News did the printing. I believe the person most responsible for the existence of the Kelso Depot today was O. B. O'Brian. O. B. was living at Kelso and had been the only person maintaining and securing the depot grounds for the years between the depot's closure and the creation of the Kelso Depot Fund. Without him, I don't believe the depot could have survived. It is a shame that O. B. is not memorialized at the restored Kelso Depot today. There was a big fund raising event put on at Kelso by the Kelso Depot Fund in April of 1986. O. B. was still there at that time, but it seemed too many other, more vocal and political people were stealing the lime light and O. B. was not given the credit he was certainly due. Many of the guests were brought out on a special passenger train named the "Desert Wind", which was the first passenger train to stop at Kelso in many years. Sue arrived on the train with Elden and Patty. I had borrowed a spot light from NBC for the occasion and brought it, along with other gear, out in our van. O. B. and I worked together on the stage and lighting for the evening festivities. Everyone's efforts ultimately saved the Kelso Depot, which is now the National Park Headquarters for the Mojave Desert Preserve.
At the October 1988 BRE General Meeting, the idea for a road recommendation list was formalized. A motion was made and carried that the Conservation Chair would form a committee to work on compiling information to help with the Desert Bill. Ann Fulton was our new Conservation Chair, replacing Patty Carpenter, who had resigned. The majority of BRE members assumed that the roads we had enjoyed together would be allowed to remain open in the Desert Bill. Sadly, that was not to be. By November 1988, the substantial input from the BRE was being totally ignored by the Sierra Club, largely because Elden had not been relaying our findings and recommendations to them, or anyone else for that matter. The BRE finally tried to bypass Elden, but were unsuccessful. Instead, the BRE was vilified within the Sierra Club. This prompted some BRE members to intensify their efforts to modify the Desert Bill by becoming active outside the Sierra Club. We also became more aggressive within the Sierra Club.
In April 1989, Ann Fulton wrote an article, "Heretical Questions Regarding S11", that was published in the Sierra Club Cresenta Valley Group Newsletter. This article really upset Elden and gave him something to use within the SC to vindicate has own heretical treatment of the Backroad Explorers. This would lead to more serious repercussions for the BRE. Elden confided to me that he felt the Backroad Explorers were being infiltrated with opponents of the Desert Bill and he mentioned Ann Fulton and Neal Johns by name. Neal was the Chief Scout for the Friends of the Mojave Road. Elden felt that we, along with other members of the BRE, had been "corrupted" by Ann and Neal. He discontinued any support whatsoever of the BRE and was no longer the least bit sympathetic with our efforts to preserve even minimal road access in the desert. At the time, we didn't appreciate just how devastating this would be.
Things came to a head in June of 1989 after the BRE Newsletter stated "The Backroad Explorers are currently formulating a stand on the S11 Bill. We do not support the bill in its current form as it closes too many roads. We hope to work with the Sierra Club on the wording of S11 so that the more significant routes can remain open. Our goal is to reach an equitable agreement and become supportive of the bill." This seemed a very reasonable stance to most of us, but on June 3, 1989 a letter to Doug Fuhlrodt, BRE Chairman, from Judy Anderson, SC Desert Committee Chair, stated "Let me assure you that Backroad Explorers may not establish a position on S.11 and H.R. 780 which is anything other than being in support of it." Judy went on to demand a retraction of the BRE Statement, but the real nail in the coffin was the June 3, 1989 letter from Robert Kane, SC Angeles Chapter Chair, that stated "The Backroad Explorers activity committee is directed to henceforth not sponsor or lead outings which enter Wilderness Study Areas by vehicle." The Backroad Explorers were being told they must support the Desert Bill without being allowed any input. The BRE could no longer explore legal existing roads if they happened to be within the proposed Desert Bill. Our research and findings were not wanted.
The Backroad Explorer Committee did agree to publish the required retraction if they would be allowed input for the Desert Bill. On June 13, John Maclean and I met with Judy Anderson and Jim Dodson of the Sierra Club to discuss the Backroad Explorers' Road Preservation Recommendations". The meeting was cordial and, I felt, productive. The required retraction statement was issued by the BRE Newsletter Editor, John Maclean, on June 14, 1989, but relations between the SC and BRE continued to heat up.
The Sierra Club evidently felt that instead of having valuable input for the Desert Bill, the BRE Road Recommendation List was undermining the SC stand on the bill. The Executive Committee of the Angeles Chapter Sierra Club (Ex Com) issued a September 20, 1989 directive that the BRE print the statement, "Notice is hereby given that the Backroad Explorers Activity Committee has approved no such list and has made no such recommendations. The list was prepared by an individual and does not represent the position of Backroad Explorers, Angeles Chapter, or the Sierra Club." The Ex Com was obviously aware that this was not true. The Ex Com actions undermined all the work and progress we had made. The BRE responded with an October 7, 1989 letter to the Ex Com, signed by all the Officers of the Backroad Explorers, that supported the BRE Road Preservation List and stated that the list had been approved at a 1988 Backroad Explorer General Meeting. In response, on November 2, 1989 the BRE was suspended by the Executive Committee of the Angeles Chapter Sierra Club (Ex Com).
After the suspension, the BRE continued to be a viable group, though the situation caused some changes. Doug Fuhlrodt resigned and I took over as BRE Chair. John Maclean became the Membership/Treasurer, Axel Heller became the new Newsletter Editor and Mickey Ashley took charge of copying and collating the Newsletter. We moved ahead with our basic agenda and had a lot of support from many desert notables. For example, a January 1990 trip to Zzyzx was planned by Anne Duffield and Dennis Casebier joined us to speak about the history of Zzyzx. Also joining us for the Zzyzx weekend were Brian Brown (from China Ranch), Mike and Shirley Doughtery (Mike Sez of the Baker Valley News), Walt Wheelock (La Siesta Press), and Dan and Janet Cronkite (Sagebrush Press). This weekend was very well attended (almost 100 members) and became an impromptu general meeting.
It was a majority opinion of the BRE members that it would be better for the BRE to remain a part of the Sierra Club. We worked to reach an amicable compromise. On January 22, 1990 Ken Croker and I represented the BRE at the SC Angeles Chapter Council meeting. The Council minutes reflected our success by reporting "After lengthy discussion and presentations by Bob Marshall, Bob Jaussaud, Ken Croker and Jim Dodson, the Council approved the following motion: "The Council recommends that the Backroad Explorers Activity Committee be fully reinstated immediately and that the BRE shall attempt to correct the erroneous implication of certain testimony presented at the Bishop hearing for the California Desert Protection Act which appeared to place the BRE in disagreement with Sierra Club policy." Ken Croker was instrumental in securing this compromise. The Desert Peak Section (DPS) also supported the BRE position as many of the published and long used DPS access roads to the desert peak trail heads would be closed by the Desert Bill. As part of the compromise at the Council meeting, I was required to pledge, as a representative of the BRE, that the BRE would maintain a neutral position on the Desert Bill. This we endeavored to do, although we were free to oppose the bill publicly as long as we made it clear we were not representing the Sierra Club. In fact, I was one of the people who spoke in opposition of the unmodified bill at the Bishop hearing, but I had clearly done so as an individual and that fact was clarified at the Council meeting.
So, the BRE was back with the Sierra Club and we still had our Road Recommendation List. For a while things seemed to settle down a bit for the BRE. By April of 1990 Jay Lawrence was our SC Council Representative and Ken Croker was our official SC Advisor. The era of BRE work parties began with work weekends at the Shoshone Museum, Granite Mountains and Dos Palmas. Work, of course, continued on the BRE Road Recommendations List. Tom Church became the BRE Outings Chairman in October 1990. Our annual Rendezvous was held January 26-27, 1991 at ZZYZX. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) District Manager, Gerald Hillier was the guest speaker.
Even though they had agreed to do so, the Sierra Club had not responded to our Road Recommendations, so on March 26, 1991, with the unanimous written approval of the BRE Officiers, we sent a letter and our Road Recommendations to the Sierra Club Executive Director, Michael Fischer. we sent copies of the list and letter to Michael McCloskey (Sierra Club Chairman), Carl Pope (Sierra Club Associate Executive Director for Conservatioon and Communication), Susan Merrow (Sierra Club Board of Directors President), Wynne Benti (Sierra Club National Council Angeles Chapter Delegate), Dan Sullivan (Sierra Club California Chairman), Jonathan F. King (Sierra Editor in Chief), Gregg Solkovits (Southern Sierran Editor in Chief), Ken Horner (Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Chairman), Robin Ives (Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Council Chairman), Terry Turner (Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Desert Peaks Section Chairperson) and Maris Valkass (Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Desert Conservation Committee Chairman). On April 12, 1991, at the request of Robin Ives, we sent copies of the letter and Road Recommendations to Elden Hughes, Judy Anderson, Jeff Widen, Patraic Kelley, and Jim Dodson.
In April of 1991, newly married Anne Duffield and George Stoll took over the BRE Membership/Treasurer position while John Maclean assumed the role of BRE Vice-Chairman.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Fischer replied to our letter on April 15, 1991. He said "I have asked Jim Dodson of the subcommittee to review the materials you have prepared and I have passed your material along to him. Jim, along with Judy Anderson, Elden Hughes, and other committee members, have extensive and intimate knowledge of the areas proposed for parkland or wilderness in the bill." Ken Horner (SC Executive Committee) replied with a phone call and also asked me discuss our input with Jim Dodson, Judy Anderson and Elden Hughes. So... Jim, Judy and Elden would have the final say, even though the Backroad Explorers were the only Sierra Club group that had been dedicated to exploring and reporting on all the proposed wilderness areas and had, indeed, put their findings on the table.
Anyway, we followed Sierra Club protocol and contacted Jim Dodson by phone. In an April 16, 1991 letter to Ken Horner (SC Executive Committee) I described the results of my conversation with Jim:
"I attempted to make contact with Judy Anderson, Jim Dodson, and Elden Hughes, eventually reaching Jim by phone last night. His initial response really disheartened me. I have not been able to put it out of mind, thus this letter."
"Briefly Jim's initial response was: (1) name calling (saying I was a traitor and that our input was from the California Desert Coalition), (2) indicating there was no point in talking, and (3) indicating that I was naive concerning political functioning (this may be true) and that the only thing he could do was to give me a lesson on politics. Jim's initial response was very similar to the rhetoric I heard from Elden just prior to the Backroad Explorers being suspended. Fortunately, Jim did cool down a bit and finally agreed to contract Judy about a possible meeting, tentatively May 1 or 2."
"Let me assure you, Ken, that the list of road recommendations submitted in 1989 and the refined list submitted last month are the results of the dedicated effort of the Backroad Explorers solely. We represent responsible members of the Sierra Club and value its principles. Any effort to discredit this list, or the Backroad Explorers with regard to it, is most likely an effort to evade the issue and avoid responding."
"The Backroad Explorers have done a lot of work exploring, mapping, and cleaning-up the desert. We have volunteered for many worthwhile projects and organized many helpful and informative programs. In general, we have been responsible examples of Sierra Club ideals. Where has all this effort gotten us? When possible, our efforts have been ignored by the Sierra Club. We have not been allowed to lead 4wd Sierra Club outings in legal roads within land affected by the desert protection act. We were suspended from the Sierra Club and reinstated only at the firm recommendation of a special committee appointed to look into the matter. We have not been given the opportunity to participate with, or input to, the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Awards. Worst of all, we are constantly confronted with unjust accusations, such as the accusations Jim leveled at me and about the Backroad Explorer Road Preservation List."
"The Backroad Explorers are moving in a positive direction. We can be of great service to the Sierra Club if our efforts are acknowledged and directed appropriately. Why must all our input be channelled through three of the people most unreceptive to it? Are these three people solely responsible for Sierra Club policy concerning desert protection? I hope not."
We received no further response from anyone in the Sierra Club, so on May 1, 1991 we again wrote to SC Executive Director Michael Fischer and asked for his help. This resulted in a May 7, 1991 letter to me from Judy Anderson. She said, "Although I indicated to Joyce Coleman (SC Conservation Chair) that I would be willing to meet with you, I do not feel that it is practical or useful to do so at this time." Neither Elden or Jim Dodson ever bothered to respond. In Judy's letter she said some of the roads on our list were constructed illegally, but she failed to identify which roads those might be. As a matter of fact, all the roads on the BRE Road Recommendation list were identified on legitimate BLM, Auto Club or USGS Topo maps. Judy also said she had spent half an hour trying to locate one of our roads, but was unsuccessful. Again, she did not identify which road that might have been. The BRE had offered many times to show the roads on the list to anyone interested, including Judy, and would continue to do so. As to the BRE contention that some of the areas suggested by the Sierra Club might be inappropriate as wilderness, Judy said, "Congress can do as it pleases when it designates wilderness. Only opponents to wilderness argue that wilderness must be "pure." It is one of their favorite arguments to reduce the number of acres." Had Judy only read our recommendations, she would have realized that the BRE proposals actually included more "acres" of wilderness recommendations than the Sierra Club Desert Bill did. What we had done was research, explore and refine our recommendations.
So, just 3 people were in control of the Sierra Club Desert Bill; Judy Anderson, Jim Dodson and Elden Hughes. As a consequence, all the efforts of the Backroad Explorers to refine the Desert Bill were ignored and vilified by the Sierra Club. In frustration, on June 9, 1991, John Maclean, of his own volition, wrote a letter to Michael Fisher questioning the authority of Judy Anderson, Jim Dodson and Elden Hughes. He signed his letter as the Vice Chairman of the Backroad Explorers. Unfortunately, he copied his letter to Senator Cranston and Senator Seymour. I had not even seen John's letter when an irate Robin Ives (Council Chair) called me and said we were again on the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Council agenda. Robin said that John should have asked his questions only within the framework of the Sierra Club. I reminded him that I had put those same questions in writing to Ken Horner (SC Executive Committee) in my April 16, 1991 letter, which had been copied to Robin and I was not given the courtesy of a response. Robin admitted that our situation had not been handled well. Even so, on June 24, 1991 the Council, responding to a motion Robin made, voted to remove the officers of the Backroad Explorers. It is interesting to note that none of the Backroad Explorer Officiers were present at the Council meeting and were not allowed to present their positions. Also of note is the strategy meeting witnessed by our Council Representative, Jay Lawrence, just prior to the Council meeting. The strategy meeting was between Robin Ives, Joyce Coleman (SC Conservation Chair) and Elden Hughes. In a January 1992 personal letter to me, Elden denied having anything to do with my suspension as Chair of the Backroad Explorers.
John Maclean attempted to mollify the brouhaha his letter had caused by resigning, in writing, as Vice Chair of the Backroad Explorers on July 8, 1991. His resignation evidently had no real impact, as on July 18, 1991, the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, again with Elden present, backed up the Council and voted to replace all the officers of the Backroad Explorer Committee. They passed back to the Council the job of replacing the officers. At the July 29 Council Meeting, I was suspended as the Backroad Explorers Chair. Axel Heller was appointed, by the Council, to take my place. It is fun to note here that on October 13, 1991 I was given a Certificate of Appreciation by the Friends of the Mojave Road stating that the award was "In recognition of your efforts to keep the California Desert free for nondestructive motorized vehicle recreation -- to the point of having been found unfit by the Sierra Club to provide leadership to one of their groups." Also, at their next general meeting the Backroad Explorers presented me with a certificate, "In Recognition of Having Become the Most Removed Officer". I treasure both of those awards.
Around this time, Bill Neill became involved and attempted to be a go-between for the Backroad Explorers and the Sierra Club, especially regarding the BRE Road Recommendations. He persuaded us to prioritize our road recommendations. We did so and on July 15, 1991 (while I was still BRE Chair) and, again at Bill's urging, I sent the prioritized list to Elden. No response.
On July 30, 1991, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released their study titled "BLM California Desert Wilderness Package in the Hands of Congress" (the Sierra Club's Desert Bill). Of the 209 proposed Wilderness Areas, the BLM felt only 62 were suitable for wilderness.
In September of 1991, Neal Johns and I traveled to Washington DC to present the Backroad Explorer Road Preservation Recommendations to Congress. Our lobbying schedule included Congressmen Blen Blaz, Richard Baker, Mel Levine, George Miller, Seymour, Cranston, Jim O'Toole, James Hansen, Ben Night Horse Campbell and Elton Gallegy. In addition, we formally presented our list at a Congressional Hearing, where it was noted by Congressman Mel Levine (D - Santa Monica and House sponsor of the House Desert Bill) that we were actually recommending more wilderness than the Sierra Club Desert Bill recommended. Many thanks are due Congressman Jerry Lewis (R - San Bernardino), who allowed Neal and I to base our lobbying efforts out of his office. It is interesting to note that neither Senator Cranston (D - California and sponsor of the Senate Desert Bill) nor his aid showed up for our meeting, although we arrived early and waited several hours in his office. Later, his office issued a statement that he was not able to meet with us as we had "not shown up". Likewise, Senator Campbell (D - Colorado) promised to support us, but ultimately did not.
I had gone to Washington an idealist and came home totally demoralized. It had become evident to me that lying is accepted as standard practice in Washington. On the brighter side, many thanks to Dennis Casebier and the Friends of the Mojave Road, who helped subsidize our trip to Washington. Dennis and the Friends were appreciative of our support for their project, a 660 mile loop through the Mojave Desert called the "Heritage Trail". If the Desert Bill were to pass unmodified, the Heritage Trail would be cut in several places. It should be noted that the Heritage Trail had the approval of all the managing agencies through which it passed. Unfortunately, it was severed in many places when the Desert Bill did eventually pass and that is a huge loss for all of us who love nondestructive use of motorized vehicles to access the desert.
In defiance of the Sierra Club, at their November 18, 1991 management meeting, the Backroad Explorers unanimously voted that I be reinstated to complete my term as Chair. The Sierra Club did not repeat their action to have me removed, but to avoid a possible confrontation with the SC, at the March 1, 1992 BRE General Meeting I asked to be allowed to step down and take over the open Vice Chair position. My request was approved and Axel Heller was elected to officially become Chair of the Backroad Explorers.
At the May 4, 1992 BRE Management Committee Meeting, we brought up the idea for the Backroad Explorers to become an Activity Section of the Sierra Club. The advantage of section status was that officers would be allowed due process and it would be much more difficult for the Sierra Club Council to remove officers. It was also hoped that the debate over section status for the BRE would bring positive attention to the BRE Road Recommendation List. The BRE was emphasizing the fact that they supported desert protection and wanted the Desert Bill to be refined so they could be whole heartedly supportive of it. The BRE Section Bylaw Committee was formed and I was elected Chair. Also on the committee were Tom Church, Anne Stoll and Betty Wallin. On November 19, 1992 the Bylaw Committee completed their task and had the Backroad Explorers Activity Section Bylaws ready to be submitted to the Sierra Club Council. Axel Heller presented our Bylaws to Bob Marshal (current SC Conservation Chair), but by the next Council meeting Bob Marshall was unable to find our Bylaws to submit. It wasn't until April of 1993 that the Council finally ran out of excuses and started reviewing the BRE Bylaws for Section status. According to BRE Council Representative, Jay Lawrence, "Traditional council cat fights and fat chewing still abound."
Finally in the middle of June, 1993, the Council requested some minor changes to the Backroad Explorers Bylaws. This was "only" 6 months after they were given to Bob Marshal. The modifications were done and agreed upon at the July 25, 1993 BRE Officers Meeting. The modified Bylaws were resubmitted to the Council and unanimously accepted! They were sent to the Sierra Club Executive Committee for final approval. The Executive Committee voted to approve our Bylaws and the Backroad Explorers became an Activity Section of the Sierra Club on October 10, 1993.
The 1994 BRE Rendezvous was held February 19-21 at Anza Borrego. In March, 1994, Axel resigned as Chair of the Backroad Explorers to become Co-Vice Chair. Ken Sears took over as BRE Chair. The Backroad Explorers were planning a Desert Bill Dialog at Shoshone for the March 1995 Backroad Explorer Rendezvous in Shoshone, but on October 8, 1994 the United States Senate passed the Desert Bill. On October 31, 1994 President Bill Clinton signed the Desert Bill into law. When all was said and done, it was apparent that we had lost most of the roads on our BRE Road Recommendation List, including some key sections of the Heritage Trail. Besides the Heritage Trail, the loss of the Trampas Wash access in the Chemehuevi Mountains was hardest for me. It is interesting to note that years later, after Elden and I had reconciled, Elden commented to me that he wished he had seen that area.
Karen Leonard was the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section (DPS) Chair in 1988 and a Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Council Representative from 1989 to 1991. In her book, "Peak Experiences" written after 2007, she points out that "Sierra Club conservation activists had been the ones working on the bill, drawing wilderness boundaries without consulting the relevant outings sections, especially the DPS and the BRE which had strong interests in keeping desert access roads open." So, the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section was being denied input, just as the Backroad Explorers were. The DPS was being told that their issues would be addressed before the Desert Bill was passed. Leonard comments that, "The DPS eventually cooperated with the conservation activists, believing they would incorporate its recommendations for cherry stemming into the bill." She adds, "In the end, the cherry stemming did not nearly cover all the roads the DPS requested."
The Backroad Explorers Desert Bill Dialog at Shoshone in March of 1995 did occur, but seemed a bit anticlimatic. It was more a question of where do we go from here? The guest speakers were Ernie Quintana (Superintendent of the new Joshua Tree National Park), Marvin Jenseen (Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve), Alan O'Neill (Head of the Transition Team), Richard Martin (Death Valley National Park Superintendent) plus representatives from the BLM and desert historians. We were involved and wrote invitation and thank you letters, but no longer represented the BRE or the Sierra Club. Sue and I had decided not to renew our membership in the Sierra Club.
In 1995, Ken Croker was elected as the new Backroad Explorers Chairman and attempted to keep the Backroad Explorers afloat. The effort was futile, as the Sierra Club Backroad Explorers ceased to exist not long after the passage of the Desert Bill. Many key members of the Backroad Explorers gave up their membership in the Sierra Club, largely due to the fact that they felt the Sierra Club had treated them unfairly, but we were still a group of sorts.
Early in 1995, Bill Neill approached us and asked what was to become of the Backroad Explorers as a group. We could see that the Backroad Explorers would not remain a viable group within the Sierra Club. Bill suggested that we become an outings group within the Barstow River Valley Museum and he organized a meeting between the former Backroad Explorer group and the Management Committee from the Barstow River Valley Museum. The meeting included myself, Bill Neill, Neal Johns, Bill Mann and Cliff Walker, to name a few, and resulted in creating the Desert Explorers of the Barstow River Valley Museum. The Desert Explorers (DE) were the Backroad Explorers reincarnated. A new name was required, as the Sierra Club still retained the failing remnants of the Backroad Explorers.
The first Desert Explorer Newsletter was published April/May 1995. The first leaders listed in that Newsletter were: Sue and I, Bill Neill, Neal & Marian Johns, Bob Martin, Jay Lawrence, Ann Fulton, Axel Heller, Mickey Ashley, Ken Sears, Betty Wallin, Anne Duffield & George Stoll, Roger Vargo, Chuck & Margot Kopenec, Chuck Kalbach, Willie Walker, Bill Crawford, and Mark Marion. In the June/July 1995 DE Newsletter Tom Church, Allen Romspert, Dwight Stroud and Steve Pencall were added as leaders. Through the years the names have changed, but the Desert Explorers continue to be a viable, fun group of folks that still enjoy the desert and exploring.
written by Bob Jaussaud - April 2012