The City of Lancaster’s Prime Desert Woodland Preserve Interpretive Center is the result of many hardworking people from all walks of life, however, the Center is dedicated to the memory of one Lancaster resident: Elizabeth “Elyze” Clifford, the activist that rallied a coalition to preserve the special and unique desert woodland area that you can visit today.
A noted and tireless environmentalist, Elyze Clifford had an inquisitive mind and an indomitable spirit. She was born in February 1926, in Tucson, Arizona. Elyze arrived in the Antelope Valley in 1951, where she resided in the valley for the rest of her life, with the exception of a period of five years when she lived in Laguna and obtained a certificate in Environmental Reporting and Analysis from Laguna Community College.
Clifford, who always loved nature, believed that the well-being of the environment is also important to the well-being of human beings; therefore, a healthy environment creates healthy humans. She felt that the desert and its resources were here to be carefully used, and not abused. But she saw things were changing – and not always for the best. Dumping grounds, motorcycle trails, and expanding housing tracts appeared in what were once pristine desert woodlands.
Clifford’s life became dedicated to preserving the environment and integrity of the desert, and to educating others about its beauty. She established the Southwest Desert Householders Alliance in 1978, which later became the Southwest Desert Householders Research and History Alliance. She worked tirelessly and led this group in the effort to preserve and protect the exceptionally rich desert Joshua and juniper woodlands in Lancaster. As chairperson, she coordinated an appeal of a proposal to build homes in the Westside area, as she believed it would affect the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve site.
Riding in her old Rambler car, Clifford would make excursions to visit different sites to conduct surveys and count trees – information she needed for her different reports. She was always researching the facts and laws, collecting petitions, writing to local newspapers, and talking with city officials.
Clifford had vast knowledge and research talents in areas of ecology, botany, geology, hydrology, and environmental laws. Her knowledge and love for the natural environment of the Antelope Valley, combined with her organizing skills and persistence, helped rally community members and city leaders around the concept of a Prime Desert Woodland Preserve.
Many of Clifford’s friends did not know that she had a congenital heart condition. One of her last wishes was to get the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve established for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations.
She was an extremely busy environmental activist even in her last days, writing letters and conducting tours through the woodlands only five days before she died. Clifford passed away on April 1, 1990, at the age of sixty-four while in the midst of her preservation work. She is buried in the Lancaster Cemetery.
Clifford was a special lady who is greatly missed by many who loved the desert. The Prime Desert Woodland Preserve is one of the legacies of Elyze Clifford’s devotion to the Antelope Valley and all of its natural splendors.
For more information on the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve and the Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center, stay tuned!
Photos courtesy of MOAH Collections