Park rangers recently happened upon a massive – 40-acre – cannabis farm in Jail Canyon in Death Valley National Park in California’s Mojave Desert. This rarely visited spot lies on the westward face of the Panamint Mountains. This is close to the border between California and Nevada. California legalised cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2012 and recreational in 2016. It remains illegal, however, federally, and Death Valley is federal land.

The view of Death Valley from Telescope Peak. Photo: the Greater Southwestern Exploration Company

The view of Death Valley from Telescope Peak. Photo: the Greater Southwestern Exploration Company

What’s bad about cannabis farms

A park spokesperson commented that flights over the area took place to photograph it and hopefully make the growers desist from their undertaking. Hundreds of cannabis farms have been found in Death Valley in the last decade. Pesticides are a problem, as is clearing protected land, depositing trash, diverting water and poaching. The plants illegal cannabis-growers cut down sometimes provide critical habitat and food for bighorn sheep, birds and other animals.

Native Americans have cultivated cannabis for thousands of years. The Timbisha Shoshone native American tribe resides inside the park. A press release by Barbara Durham, it’s Traditional Historic Prevervation Officer, spoke of “irreplaceable and invaluable” natural resources: “Damaging them for profit shows incredible disrespect to our homeland.”

Cannabis growers have sometimes returned to Death Valley after their ventures were uncovered because growing conditions were so good. Cannabis-growing requires a reliable water supply, which is not always the case in Death Valley.

What to do if you find signs of cannabis growing

A statement by the National Park Service read that illegal cannabis growers have sometimes threatened hikers who came across their crops in remote locations. It’s recommended that hikers who notice excessive quantities of rubbish, signs of digging or plastic tubing make themselves scarce, not pausing for so much as a photograph and making as little noise as possible, and report it to the National Park Service’s tip line on 888-653-0009. Providing coordinates is best, but a description of the area will suffice. Mobile phones often don’t work within the park.

About Death Valley

Death Valley got its name from pioneering miners who found themselves lost there in 1849 during the California Gold Rush. One died, and, upon leaving, another remarked, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” It’s the hottest, driest place on Earth; temperatures can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Death Valley sees an average of only two inches of rain a year, compared to the minimum of 10 inches of most other deserts. Every cannabis plant can consume as much as six gallons of water a day, so their unauthorised presence is most unwelcome. The terrain conceals many dangerous animals, such as black widow spiders, rattlesnakes and scorpions. Nonetheless, the most common cause of death there is single car accidents. Death Valley includes the lowest point in the United States, also the driest, hottest place on this planet: Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level. At the other extreme in the Panamint Mountains is Telescope Peak, which is 11,049 feet above sea level. The relative lack of lights makes for good stargazing, although nights can get exceptionally cold.

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