- Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the desert oasis at Big Morongo Canyon is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (riverside) habitats in California. The upstream end of the canyon lies in the Mojave Desert, while its downstream portion opens into the Colorado Desert.
Because of the fault line running along the base of the mountains, water draining from the Morongo Basin surfaces at their base. This water flows above ground as Big Morongo Creek, then disappears into sandy soil further downstream. The result is a three-mile stretch of rich stream and marsh habitat lying between rugged canyon walls.
The Bureau of Land Management designated Big Morongo Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in recognition of its special values. The land is managed by the BLM and The Nature Conservancy to protect rare and endangered wildlife, enhance sensitive riparian areas, promote the growth of a wide variety of plants, provide for scientific research, and offer educational opportunities.
This canyon oasis has gained a national reputation among bird watchers as "a usual spot to see the unusual." At least 235 species of birds have been observed here, including the rare yellow-billed cuckoo - listed by California as a threatened species - and the endangered least Bell's vireo. The stream is a lifeline to migrating and breeding birds such as indigo buntings and yellow-breasted chats.
Desert bighorn sheep and mule deer file down the canyon's steep slopes to find water at the stream. Raccoons, bobcats, and foxes rely on the lush riparian habitat for food and shelter. A variety of lizards and snakes are found here, including whiptailed lizards and desert spiny lizards. The California tree frog also finds a home here, as do invertebrates such as butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
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