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The Tehachapi Mountains convergence includes the Great Basin

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

The Tehachapi Mountains are known to include floral and faunal representatives of multiple significant ecological zones, including the Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, Central Valley and South Coast. There are also multiple connections to another major ecological zone: the Great Basin.

For example, the subspecies of Western Fence Lizard found in the Tehachapi Mountains is the Great Basin Fence Lizard (Sceleporous occidentalis longipes). The subspecies of Tiger Whiptail found locally is the Great Basin Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris tigris). And while these are uncommon except for where the Tehachapis meet the Mojave Desert floor, the collared lizards in our area are Great Basin Collared Lizards (Crotaphytus bicinctores).

Some snakes also reveal Great Basin affiliation, for example our common and widespread Gophersnake is the Great Basin Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola), along with possible intergrades with an adjacent subspecies.

In addition to the herpetofauna, there are many Great Basin plants found in the Tehachapis, including large stands of Great Basin Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) and colonies of Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia glandulosa). The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) name for Cameron Canyon is hünavidä, meaning "Place of Antelope Bitterbrush."

The pinyon/juniper woodlands found in many higher elevations of the Great Basin are also well-represented in the eastern parts of the Tehachapis.

The Tehachapi Mountains also have prehistoric cultural affiliations with the Great Basin. The Native Americans that occupied the Tehachapi Mountains for more than 10,000 years self-identify as Nuwä or Southern Paiute, while they are typically referred to in archeological and anthropological literature as Kawaiisu.

These people exhibited cultural practices representing two major lifeways: California Culture and Great Basin Culture. Tribes in California Culture typically made domed houses framed with willow and thatched with tules or other plant materials, and relied heavily on acorns as a food staple. The Nuwä did incorporate these practices.

Great Basin Culture tribes tended to make homes that were more conical or tipi-like, with a framework of juniper poles or willow covered with cedar bark, sagebrush, etc. They also relied more on pinyon pine nuts for food, since oak trees and acorns are absent in many Great Basin locations, and made rabbitskin blankets to keep warm. The Nuwä also followed these cultural practices, and in some respects show stronger affiliations with Great Basin Culture than California Culture.

The Tehachapi Mountains are a place of genuine convergence, where different ecological zones meet and overlap. Along with frequently cited Sierra Nevada, Mojave Desert, Central Valley and South Coast ecological regions, a fifth one should be remembered: the Great Basin.