Seven miles west of Searchlight, surrounded by Joshua trees, there is a Spanish Colonial Revival home that once belonged to 1920s-era Hollywood actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell.
The historic Walking Box Ranch is situated within more than 380,000 acres of culturally significant and biologically diverse land that environmental and tribal groups see as a perfect candidate for permanent protection.
As conservation advocates provided a tour of the 5,000-square-foot ranch Wednesday evening, they were also clear about what they wanted: Avi Kwa Ame National Monument.
“There are threats to the sort of peace and the environment that we’re in right now,” said Gabriel di Chiara, an organizer with the Nevada Conservation League. “And we believe establishing this monument will preserve this land and this way of life for future generations, and it’s vitally important.”
Supporters believe there is more momentum now than in years past, pointing to a new presidential administration more friendly to conservation and the appointment of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to serve as head of a cabinet department.
Advocates also cited President Joe Biden’s land conservation plan as a reason to be optimistic. It seeks to protect 30 percent of American lands and water by 2030 and has been supported by Gov. Steve Sisolak and Clark County lawmakers.
“I think we’re at a crossroads of a lot of things that are happening positively at once,” said Taylor Patterson, executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada.
There are overlapping issues that prompted advocates to push for monument status and begin a public awareness campaign in 2020. One concern is a proposed major wind farm only two miles from Walking Box Ranch.
But for much longer, the broad swath of proposed monument territory — stretching from the Newberry mountains in the east to the New York, South McCullough, Castle and Piute mountains in the west — has been important to roughly a dozen indigenous tribes.
From the site of Wednesday’s 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.
“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.
Local political support
The Searchlight Town Advisory Board on Wednesday passed a resolution to support the monument designation, with advocates saying that it would also give a boost to the local economy. The Boulder City Council offered similar support in late March.
Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, whose district encompasses the proposed monument, said Thursday he had been closely watching the effort for two years.
Naft attended Wednesday’s advisory board meeting and, along with Commissioner Justin Jones, participated in the event afterward at Walking Box Ranch which included star-gazing. Naft said that local support for a monument is key and that he foresees himself bringing the conversation to the county commission “in the not so distant future.”
To be clear, a national monument designation must come either through Congress or by the president through the Antiquities Act.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto toured Avi Kwa Ame earlier this month. The senator “looks forward to learning more about the proposal and engaging with her constituents in the community,” spokeswoman Lauren Wodarski said.