Walking Box Ranch of Rex Bell and Clara Bow eight miles from Searchlight, Nev., Jan. 27, 1939. (Photo: Associated Press, file)
LAS VEGAS — Advocates in Southern Nevada are building momentum toward setting aside a wide desert area rich with biological diversity and Native American cultural significance for permanent environmental protection.
The site would be called Avi Kwa Ame National Monument and encompass a Spanish Colonial Revival house that once belonged to 1920s-era Hollywood actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell on their historic Walking Box Ranch.
The rugged and dry landscape is dotted with Joshua trees between mountain ranges west of Searchlight. At more than 594 square miles, it covers an area larger than San Francisco Bay.
"There are threats to the sort of peace and the environment that we're in right now," Gabriel di Chiara, a Nevada Conservation League organizer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "And we believe establishing this monument will preserve this land and this way of life for future generations, and it's vitally important."
Conservation advocates providing a tour of the 5,000-square-foot homesite on June 9 said they saw hope in President Joe Biden's administration, a federal conservation plan that aims to protect 30% of American lands and water by 2030 and the appointment of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as the first Native American head of a presidential cabinet post.
They said overlapping issues have prompted the push for protection, including a proposal for a big wind farm 2 miles from Walking Box Ranch.
"I think we're at a crossroads of a lot of things that are happening positively at once," Taylor Patterson, executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada, told the newspaper.
From the site of the tour and information session, Spirit Mountain was visible in the distance on the eastern boundary of the proposed monument. It is called "Avi Kwa Ame" by the Fort Mojave Tribe, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a sacred place to Indian tribes.
Walking Box Ranch is also on the Register.
"I don't want to say 'eternal thing,' but for Fort Mojave, it's been a consistent thing that this is their ancestral land, these are spaces that are really important to their cosmology, to their oral tradition, and it needs to be protected," Patterson said.
The Searchlight Town Advisory Board recently passed a resolution supporting monument designation, with advocates saying that it could boost the local economy. The Boulder City Council offered similar support in late March.
Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, whose district encompasses the proposed monument, and Commissioner Justin Jones participated in the tour.
Naft said local support for a monument is key, but national monument designation must come from Congress or the president.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada toured Avi Kwa Ame earlier this month. Spokeswoman Lauren Wodarski told the Review-Journal the senator, a Democrat, looked forward to learning more about the proposal.