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person standing on gray stone fragment

Some of the best camping in California is on BLM land

If you spend enough time trying to snag one of the very limited camping spaces inside Joshua Tree National Park, eventually you’ll run into some helpful advice from a park ranger or fellow camper: “Head to BLM land.” That’s what avid camper, hiker and L.A. furniture maker Josh Jackson heard from a friend as he struggled to find a last-minute campsite for his family in 2015.

BLM, or the Bureau of Land Management, is a federal agency that oversees 245 million acres of public land and 700 million acres of mineral estate. Unlike the National Park Service, BLM lands are managed for a variety of uses, including mineral extraction, industrial leases and power generation — but a substantial amount of land is focused on conservation and recreation.

Jackson found a spot near the Trona Pinnacles, a series of towering tufa spires that sit south of the city of Trona in the Searles Valley, and after that first experience, he was hooked. Over the next five years, a time in which public lands were coming under increased threat, he dove into the history of the bureau and the lands it manages. One of the most glaring vulnerabilities of BLM land, he felt, was that too few people knew how beautiful it could be.

So Jackson set out, putting 14,000 miles on his car and more than 300 on his boots, to explore and document “pretty much every accessible acre of BLM land in California.” (There are more than 15 million acres in California alone.) Although the endgame for this project is a book, Jackson also launched the Instagram account Forgotten Lands to chronicle his journey, show off a terrain that dazzles just as much as any national park, and share beautiful handmade maps and many of the books on his extensive outdoorsy reading list.

I talked with Jackson about his project and some of his favorite BLM spots in California.

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