Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center

Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center
Allanson Center facilities in Granite Cove, Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center.

The 9,000-acre Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center borders the 1.8 million-acre Mojave National Preserve. The reserve encompasses the 2070 m (6,796 ft.) summit of the rugged Granite Mountains. High plateaus and ridges dominated by piñon-juniper woodland and sagebrush descend precipitously to the east in highly fractured granitic canyons. Massive pinnacles and broken, rocky terrain eventually give way to densely vegetated bajadas and washes, supporting creosote bush scrub, a unique community of enriched mixed woody and succulent scrub, and other habitat types.

Variation in habitat, hydrology, and elevation supports widely diverse plant and animal life, including nearly 500 native species of vascular plants, one amphibian, 34 reptiles, 159 birds, and 45 mammals. Nearly 40% of the biodiversity is associated with the abundant springs and seeps located throughout the range. The reserve also protects a dense concentration of archeological and historical sites.

Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center administers two satellite reserves. The Sacramento Mountains Reserve lies on the steep slopes and flat bajadas of the Sacramento Mountains in California’s eastern Mojave Desert, 24 km (15 mi.) west of the Colorado River. This site supports plant species allied to the Sonoran Desert, such as a large stand of Bigelow’s teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) and one of the northernmost occurrences of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). The Old Woman Mountains satellite reserve is also located in a transitional bioregion between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts roughly 80 km (50 mi.) southeast of the Granite Mountains. The Old Woman Mountains reach 1,623 m (5,325 ft.) in elevation and host a rich mosaic of vegetation, including stands of pinyon-juniper, Mojave yucca, nolina, and blackbrush. Both satellite reserves are surrounded by public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Teaching and Field Courses

Many universities and institutions utilize the reserve to teach field courses and workshops in a variety of disciplines, such as geology, ecology, botany, and zoology. Interpretive loop trails and 22.5 km (14 mi.) of backcountry trails provide access to the outdoor classroom experience.

Public Outreach

The reserve offers guided tours and field trips for public and non-profit groups, workshops and conferences, and offers volunteer opportunities. Science Newsletter, published by the reserve, represents a collaborative effort with Mojave National Preserve to highlight research being conducted in the area with the goal of informing local land managers, the academic community, and the general public.  The reserve plays a critical role in the region by collaborating with government agencies on biodiversity inventories, land management, and conservation issues.

Selected Research

  • Linkages between biotic and physical components of piedmont landscapes.
  • Characterization of microbial communities and desert soil crusts.
  • Evolution of desert adaptations and response to environmental changes.
  • Plant-pollinator interactions and multiple trophic level community ecology.
  • Ecology and systematics of ants, wasps, and bees.
  • Lizard ecology, locomotion, and habitat use.
  • Bighorn sheep demographics and dietary requirements.
  • Rattlesnake life history/ distributional ecology.
  • Kangaroo rat physiology and foraging behavior.
  • Regional tectonics and seismology.
  • Long-term demographics of desert shrubs.

James M. André
Sweeney Granite Mountains
Desert Research Center
HC1 Box 101
Kelso, CA 92351
Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center website

East Mojave Desert, San Bernardino County, 128 km (80 mi.) east of Barstow.

Researcher housing (up to 20 persons) and laboratory space with full kitchen, WiFi, and indoor toilets/showers; cabin w/ DC lighting and full kitchen available for classes (max. capacity 30); campground available for classes (max. capacity 35); conference/lecture rooms (max. capacity 40).

The reserve bibliography includes citations of journal articles, books, theses, art, and other works published about or based on activities conducted at the reserve.

Species lists for plants, mammals, birds, herps, and invertebrates are available on the reserve website; regional herbarium houses over 14,000 vascular plant and lichen specimens (searchable online through CCH2 of the Consortium of California Herbaria); synoptic collections of animals, rocks, and invertebrates; climatological data starting in 1986; aerial photos; maps; library; artifact collection; bibliography of research.

Reserve director, assistant director, and stewards on site 24/7.

3,642 hectares (9,000 acres); plus satellite reserves with additional 107 hectares (265 acres) in Old Woman Mountains and 239 hectares (591 acres) in Sacramento Mountains.

Granite Mountains: 1,128 to 2,071 m (3,700 to 6,796 ft.)
Sacramento Mountains: 700 to 915 m (2,300 to 3,000 ft.)
Old Woman Mountains: 632 m to 681 m (2,073 ft. to 2,234 ft.)

21 cm (8.3 in.) per year at Granite Cove at 1304 m (4,279 ft.) elevation

Average Daily Maximum: July 33.2 °C (91.7 °F), Dec. 12.0 °C (53.6° F)
Average Daily Minimum: July 22.0 °C (71.6 °F), Dec. 3.2 °C (37.7° F)
Current weather conditions

vulnerable plant species
The knowledge of NRS staff such as Jim Andre and Tasha La Doux. expert botanists and the directors of Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center, will help conserve plant species at risk in California. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu
Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center 1
A Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant from the NRS supported Jenna Baughman Ekwealor’s research into desert mosses at Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. Image credit: Sonia Nosratinia