"These really are the last remnants of the Wild West," says Stacy Corless, who works for a nonprofit seeking to protect and preserve the hills.
FOR THE RECORD:
National monument candidates: Two photographs accompanying a Travel section article on Sunday about areas in the Western United States that may become national monuments were mislabeled. Both photographs appeared on the section's front page. The largest photograph, labeled Berryessa-Snow Mountain, was Cascade-Siskiyou. The photo labeled Cascade-Siskiyou was Berryessa-Snow Mountain. —
Bodie Hills isn't a national monument — at least not yet. Along with 13 other lightly traveled spots in the West, it was identified in an Interior Department document earlier this year as a "good candidate" for designation.
By definition, national monuments are singled out for protection because they have one compelling cultural or natural feature. (The 1,267-foot Devils Tower in Wyoming is a good example; it became the first one in 1906.) National parks, on the other hand, have numerous natural wonders that make them worthy of a higher level of land protection. Presidents may create national monuments with the stroke of a pen — without congressional approval — thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed by preservation-minded President Teddy Roosevelt.
Since the names of the potential monuments were leaked in February, the Department of Interior has insisted the paper was merely a brainstorming document. Some Utah politicians complained about the "secret" nature of the list, and Utah Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both Republicans, have since introduced bills that would give Congress a say in how national monuments are created.
Whether the Bodie Hills or any of these remote lands become national monuments is unknown. These are hard places to get to — and hard to get to know. In Yosemite, you can see Half Dome without leaving your car; here, you must dig deeper to find more subtle natural wonders: a flawless night sky or a perfect bit of solitude. But isn't that all part of the allure?
Here are quick looks at the 14.
Berryessa-Snow Mountain, Calif.
Hard to believe there's anything considered pristine near the well-traveled Napa Valley, but 500,000 acres of unspoiled rivers and hilly oak woodlands await just east and north of California's prime wine country.
Grab a cabin or campsite at Pleasure Cove on man-made Lake Berryessa and then kayak up Putah Creek about four or five miles to get a firsthand look at cottonwoods and willows in the streamside lowlands.
Head north to Mendocino National Forest, where a drive on unpaved forest roads takes you to the trailhead for a hike up 7,056-foot Snow Mountain.
Info: Pleasure Cove Marina, Lake Berryessa, http://www.goberryessa.com; Mendocino National Forest's Stonyford Work Station, (530) 934-3316
Bodie Hills, Calif.
Stopping at the old mining town at Bodie State Historic Park is a must in this remote area of the Eastern Sierra south of Bridgeport, Calif. But to really appreciate the hills, visitors should take 18 scenic miles on the off-road Geiger Grade from high desert sage to little aspen groves that blaze yellow in the fall. Part of the grade rises 2,000 feet on the flank of Bodie Peak, which, if you take the time to climb on foot, affords stunning views of the Sierra Crest. Contact: Bureau of Land Management, Bishop Field Office, (760) 872-5000
As a bookend to the Modoc Plateau, the Cascade-Siskiyou area of California sits in the extreme northwest corner of the state and borders the national monument of the same name in southern Oregon.
The 52,495-acre monument, created by President Clinton in 2000 to protect the "extraordinary biodiversity" in this area, could be expanded to include the Klamath River on the California side. There's plenty to do in this desert-and-forest mix — fishing, shooting white-water rapids on the Upper Klamath or taking a 108-mile drive from the dry, high desert in the east to more lush forested mountains in the west and the little town of Happy Camp. The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway begins north of Yreka on historic California Highway 96.