When Michelle Browner first visited the Eastern Sierra, she found a landscape that spoke to her soul. In particular, the area around Benton drew her in – with its charming, quiet character, spectacular ridges crowned with pinion pine, and the smell of the high desert abloom with sage. The region was a piece of history come alive.
Stretching northwest of Benton along Highway 120, Adobe Valley is a rare wetland in the midst of the California desert – and one of the more secluded regions of the Eastern Sierra. At its eastern edge lies Black Lake, a thriving oasis for birds and other wildlife. This valley and its wildness captivated Michelle.
To Michelle Browner, Black Lake was something truly unique. “From the beginning, I felt very deeply that this was a special place,” she recounts. “When I first saw the Adobe Valley, I already had the idea in my mind that I wanted to do whatever I could to conserve it.”
Michelle felt that she, “could not, and would not ever want to have the land around Black Lake developed.” So when the parcel went up for sale nearly twenty years ago, she jumped at the chance to purchase Black Lake and the surrounding meadows.
Concerned about the landscape’s long-term future, in 2014 Michelle Browner approached Eastern Sierra Land Trust to consider options that would conserve Black Lake long beyond her lifetime. “I decided that I wanted to make an outright land donation to the Land Trust, to ensure that the property would remain protected forever,” Michelle explained.
Thanks to Michelle Browner, the future of this unique place is now secure. ESLT’s Black Lake Preserve – along with its important wildlife habitat, geologic history, and other conservation values – will remain wild and open for generations to come.
A Wilderness Protected
The remote Black Lake Preserve has a rich geologic, agricultural, and ecological history. Though the area sees few human visitors, it attracts wildlife from miles around.
As a whole, the Adobe Valley has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society; and with its seasonal lake and surrounding wet meadows, the Black Lake Preserve is critical to maintaining healthy bird habitat here. It serves as an important breeding outpost for dozens of waterfowl and migrating bird species. Click here for a list of birds that have been spotted at Black Lake (PDF).
The Black Lake Preserve also provides a critical water source for pronghorn, mule deer, golden eagles, amphibians, and other wildlife. And for curious botanists, rare alkali-loving plants can be found near the lake’s shore – such as Hesperochiron Californicus, pictured at right. This perennial herb is native to California, and can be seen blooming at Black Lake in the spring.
For decades, portions of Adobe Valley have been used as a critical agricultural resource for livestock grazing – a use that continues to this day. Black Lake’s agricultural value will be maintained for limited seasonal grazing that will ensure the protection of the area’s natural resources.
Plan Your Visit
Thanks to Michelle Browner, this unusual Eastern Sierra landscape is protected forever – and now you can experience its wonders for yourself. Because the Black Lake Preserve is now owned by ESLT, it is open to the public; it can be reached seasonally when Highway 120 is open.
Please help us protect the rich diversity of plant and animal life found at the Black Lake Preserve by following these simple rules:
- Enjoy your visit on foot
- Motor vehicles and bicycles prohibited
- Please do not wade or swim in the water – you will disturb sensitive habitat
- Pets allowed only on leash or under immediate voice control
- Horseback riding prohibited
- No harassment of wildlife permitted
- Camping, stoves, and fires are prohibited
- Pack out all trash
- No hunting or shooting