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Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center and the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve

On the site of the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve, the legacy left behind by Elizabeth “Elyze” Clifford is an Interpretive Center sharing her name. The Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center is the first public building in the State of California to use straw bales during its construction.

Standard frames were constructed using wooden posts and beams; later, these were filled with stacked straw bales. As the bales were stacked, they were threaded on rebar (steel rods) to keep them properly aligned and secured. Buildings that are composed of straw bales are durable, innovative, inexpensive, and energy-efficient in providing dead air insulation; this insulation saves costs in heating and cooling systems along with reducing the use of wood. This type of structure uses fewer resources, creating a healthy and healing environment.

Once the rods and bales were in place, the roof was installed and the rods were then bolted through wooden plates and tightened down; this compressed the walls and minimized settling. The walls were then covered in stucco and finished with plaster.

Featured within the center is a rammed earth wall made from soils from the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve. “Rammed earth” is an ancient building technique, usually associated with arid areas, where the walls are built by compacting soil and cement mixture into forms. The forms are then removed, leaving behind solid earth walls. Rammed earth walls are used to regulate temperature; when connected to soil-based ground, it cools the building without the use of electric air conditioning.

The environment outside of the Interpretive Center is especially unique as most of the water flow consists of street runoff from the surrounding urban areas. As water enters the Preserve, it often carries street litter and impurities; the water is then filtered by the vegetation growing alongside the stream channels. The Preserve allows water to enter the soil and soak into the ground in a way that pavement cannot. This is known as the hydrologic cycle; water is used and recycled utilizing nature for transportation and filtration in order to create clean water.

Many of the desert’s natural riparian habitats are dependent on stormwater runoff or receive their water from distant mountains. Riparian habitats are defined as a stream, channel, or an area of low elevation where water flows, either continuously or intermittently, and provides support to vegetation. Plants that grow within these environments are usually different from those growing nearby whose roots do not reach the water, creating even more environmental uniqueness.

When visiting and walking the grounds, be mindful of the habitat and its natural processes with the full intent of keeping it all preserved. During your hike, keep the following in mind: stay on the trail at all times and be aware of your surroundings -- don’t crush the brush!

Recently, the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) has installed educational sculptures along the trails of the Preserve. Be sure to check out Little Giant by Ann Weber; Then | Now | A Dream by Artists in Residence Nathaniel Ancheta and David Edward Martin which includes life-size sculptures of a pronghorn antelope, made of rebar and found/discarded materials; and the paleolithic antelope herd, created by Devin Thor, which make extinct creatures live again. Thor’s stonework is “a homage to our prehistoric ancestors, but also an exploration of the global influence of humans on our environment…” adding that “modern humans have modified the planet and now must take on a stewardship role, otherwise we might face extinction ourselves.

Photos courtesy of MOAH Collections and the Antelope Valley Press


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