On my recent trip to southern California, my travel buddy Andrew and I decided to go north of Los Angeles and into the western most edge of the Mojave Desert in search of one of the newest additions to the National Park Service. Cesar E. Chavez National Monument was only just established in 2012 by then President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act. The monument is located in Keene, California. The area surrounding the park might be one of the few in the world that has more wind turbines then people. The park site is only a few minutes away from the freeway, but the area still has the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.
As we exited the freeway we followed a tight and unkempt road until we hit the park entrance sign. We then descended down a hill where we found the visitor center parking lot. The visitor center is located in Cesar E. Chavez’s old office/home, and that unfortunately made the museum that it has been converted into presently a bit disjointed. While Chavez’s office exhibit is quite interesting, the rest of the museum is just a bunch of pictures with captions before it quickly leads you back to the small gift shop and the visitor center exit. The story of Chavez and his workers rights movement struggles to find itself over the course of your walk through the museum. Obviously, this is a park in its early stages so hopefully this museum becomes more interactive in the years to come.
The real highlight of the monument, though, is right outside the doors of the visitor center: the memorial garden. The garden is clearly designed to look like a desert oasis, and it works quite well as you begin your journey past a beautiful water fountain. As you walk into the center of the garden you are surrounded by interesting sights. There are all types of flora, famous quotes fill up the walls, and there is a very interesting Saint-Gaudens-esque wall sculpture. Then there are the gravesites of Chavez and his wife, Helen, which subtly find their home in the middle of it all.
We continued on a bit further through a small Desert Garden sidewalk, which gave us some nice views of more desert flora as well as some of the surrounding hills. We then came to an area that looked like a residential area so we decided to turn around. I later found out that a lot of the area we were looking at was still part of the monument and contained some trails as well as more sites important to Chavez and the Workers’ Rights Movement. Instead, I ended up enjoying a doughnut I got earlier at a nice picnic area near the visitor center parking lot. After about an hour at the monument, we called it a day and headed back towards Los Angeles.
Cesar E. Chavez National Monument tries to preserve a moment in history that seemingly has just as much meaning now as it did back then. However, what I found most interesting about this monument is the unique place it holds in the natural world. The monument finds itself in the outskirts of the Mojave Desert but is also only an hour away from the mountains and forests of the Pacific Coast Trail. It was fun to see the tiny hints of this throughout the monument.