Protecting the California Desert /// ANZA BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK

(note: below is an exerpt I gave to the ANZA BORREGO FOUNDATION gathering on March 3rd, 2018 in Borrego Springs, California. Scroll past that to read the transcript of my interview with KPBS in San Diego, regarding my visit to the desert and the California Field Atlas -Obi Kaufmann)

Obi Kaufmann on stage in Borrego Springs, March 2018

    • 1. Touching the sun in green and gold across the perfect angle of the creeping bajada on its one hundred thousandth birthday, with the equally ancient ocotillo-spire forest on its back, where all things move slow and even the crows hold a Pleistocene countenance.
  • Rain falling on the San Ysidro Mountains, Anza Borrego, spring 2018

    2. I feel returned to an older, more-quiet version of the human that is me. All the trapping saturations of my digital life desiccate quickly in the protected wind. I can hear what can be called the voice of ancestors – the gleaning of the human time-scale brushing against the geologic.

  • Poster, designed by Obi Kaufmann, now available at the Anza Borrego Foundation website,

    3. We carry into our future, after a century and a half in this place at least as many responsibilities as we do rights. This is our charge. We have the right to extract, but we have the responsibility to replenish. We have the right to develop, but we have the responsibility to restore. We have the right to occupy, but we have the responsibility to set aside. Stewardship is the active management of leaving the more-than-human world to its own functioning device.

    dawn across the Borrego Valley, San Diego county.

    4. The parade of challenges before us and this desert, from within and without is an easy course in despair. Indulging in such postures is not our luxury. Whether addressing a shrinking water table, water policy and conveyance itself, cripplingly expensive environmental remediation – tended to or not, or the machinations of bullying politicians and business men forwarding ecologically costly agendas, we shall push back, we shall abide. We shall do so because everywhere here we see treasure – its value glints off every, yellow creosote flower and in the wealth of distant coyote song that we hold in our walking bones. In its unlimited grace, the Sonora welcomes our respect and we have the right to protect the desert and we have the responsibility to protect the desert.

    Grapevine Canyon, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

    5. It was 11,000 years ago today that we killed the last mammoth and at that point, the 6th extinction (a planetary event caused by the coming of the modern homo sapiens) had been underway for 50,000 years. But now that all the systems associated with exponential population growth are beginning to exhibit bacterial patterns, we still hold our mammalian core and the philosophical apotheosis of that rise from consciousness, is choice. Here today and every day, we pledge to choose to protect and preserve and to restore these unbroken moments in our legacy landscape; we acknowledge that resource stores of endemic biodiversity, like the Colorado desert, deserve the greatest protection we can afford because this is our best bet – we have a real chance to do so, of leaving the 21st century in better shape than we left the 20th.

    Obi Kaufmann at Yaqui Pass

    6. If this is our age, let’s pull together our tools and our trust to make it grand enough, inclusive enough and resilient enough to hold, maintain and provide for our continued human residency for another ten-thousand years. Let’s allow our conversation to flow down that river in common praise for the California Floristic Province and at the confluence, welcome all wise and productive input, because the future is just as beautiful as we want it to be and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will thank us for the loving and trusting vision. <—>


February 28, 2018 4:36 p.m.

‘The California Field Atlas’ Is A Love Story To The State


Obi Kaufmann, author and illustrator, “The California Field Atlas”

Related Story: ‘The California Field Atlas’ Is A Love Story To The State


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors. To listen to the interview, link here. 

Maureen >> This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It took a lifetime of traveling, camping, climbing, hiking, and loving California, to produce a comprehensive and amazing field guide to the state, it provides a wealth of information, as varied as maps of rivers and trails, geological faults, and mount line habitat, in addition to the facts and figures, it offers original sketches and watercolors on every page. It is called a love story, by the author, Obi Kaufman, author of the California field Atlas. Welcome.

Obi > Thank you.

Maureen >> At the beginning, you caution this is generally not able to sit down with and read, so how should it be used?

Obi > I would love if people would try to do that, but it is a very special person that is going to read this book from cover to cover, it is a reference manual, that I hope, I believe now, is unique. In that it is a field Atlas, which is the genre that I made up to describe a larger character of California, the natural world of California, that has always been here, continues to persist, and will always persist despite the veneer that we have imposed on California over the natural world, so successfully in the 21st century.

Maureen >> How would you describe the California field Atlas?

Obi > The first thing that you will notice probably as opposed to other atlases, there are no roads. I don’t draw a single row to my Atlas, that is because it doesn’t really fit the story. A road is just the shortest length between some human point a and human point be, right? — Human point A, and human point B, right? A watercourse, natural contours, there is a story there that is much more interesting. This Atlas is not going to help you if you are lost in the woods, either, that is not what this is about, this is about describing the larger natural forces in California, how they work across the state, and that is why it is divided up, the first few chapters, between earth, air, fire and water, the big orienting and shaping forces that I’m looking to describe.

Maureen >> Do you think most Californians realize how diverse the state is in terms of wildlife and landscape?

Obi > I think they do, or their waking up to it, I’ve been unable to her for for five months, what I’m seeing from Crescent City to San Diego and back, this electric network of people of people who are ready for this nature first kind of narrative, I think that is so inspiring, to me, almost as if we are yearning to be counted as part of California’s people as if we want to stand up and say, we belong to this land, it does not belong to us, it is almost like a paradigm shift, and I’m happy to see unfolding.

Maureen >> I am told that the state park holds a special place for you?

Obi > It does, I spent the first two years of my life in Los Angeles, my family would take me to the state park, the largest daypart, in what is generally referred to as the low desert, Colorado desert, and the Sonora desert, as opposed to the high desert, like the Mohave, Joshua tree, so different character, it is a beautiful character, when you think of the superlative that it offers, my own personal story, the wild flower blooming, taking off again now, and the bighorn sheep, small population hanging in there, the last population count, and the desert, Palm Springs themselves, that.the canyons up into and across the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, these oases, offering a habitat to an amazing and diverse portfolio of birds, mammals and flowers, implants, you would be surprised, most people think of it as a desolate place, but the desert spring is just so alive with an amazingly complex portfolio of biodiversity.

Maureen >> What kind of challenges do you see the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park facing?

Obi > We have conservation challenges coming from within and without, meaning that we have human challenges, namely political challenges, most notably probably the wall, which comes into and out of existence, I think, at least as far as the planning process goes, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park shares a border with Mexico, and we know that if this wall actually happens, between the U.S. and Mexico, that it will spell the end of the bighorn sheep, for whom the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is named, they routinely cross the border on regular annual migration, and that would be a catastrophe. And we also have the problems of climate change and human induced inflection upon the water table underneath the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, on the surface, a very arid place, but just as recently as 100 years ago, if you were to dig a well, you would find the water table about 15 to 20 feet under the ground, a lot of water, now you have to go upwards of 200 feet down to find any water, so we have yet to see how this is going to affect the desert palm oases that I was talking about before. But they will be affected in the future, and what we need to do is we need to think of agriculture differently in the farrago Valley, — Barrego Valley, as we consider the options to make it happen to revivify the desert, and do it for generations to come.

Maureen >> As the author of the California field Atlas, where would you suggest residence, have not explored the area much, where would you say they should begin?

Obi > Such a wealth and diversity of natural landscapes to explore, if you haven’t yet, go north of the city, to the Torrey Pine reserve, which is perhaps the most where pine tree in the world, it is yours to protect, the only grow on the bluff on the coast, and to ponder the rarity and specialness of that pine tree, in that landscape is a wonder. I would also recommend if you’re looking for something a little bit more of interest, check out Palomar, into the national force there, the oak, white sage, landscape, up there, is really unique, and really represents this sort of mountainous border zone between what might be called a Mexican landscape or even a Northern California landscape, it is much different than the San Gabriel range, up north, you have some very interesting peninsular ranges down there, you settle into the Sonora desert. So your whole county is littered with the best, most beautiful, robust, adventure possibilities. Go out and check it out.

Maureen >> Author and illustrator, Obi Kaufmann, will be speaking about his book, the California field Atlas, at a series of events, including at the Borrego Springs next week.

Obi > See you out in the wild.


to order a signed copy of the California Field Atlas directly from the author, go to and follow Obi’s adventures on instagram @coyotethunder