The Devil's Garden

Ponderosa Pines in spring on Devil's Garden.The Devil's Garden Ranger District lies in the heart of the Devil’s Garden Plateau. The Devil’s Garden Plateau is a roughly mile-high expanse of lava rock, sporadic cinder cones, juniper flats, pine forests, and seasonal lakes that extends northward from Alturas beyond the Oregon border. The surface of this plateau was repeatedly flooded by a very distinct type of basalt lava between 4 to 8 million years ago and varies in thickness from nearly 100 feet on the southern margin to over 200 feet thick near the California-Oregon border. The name Devil's Garden was given to the area when the first European settlers traveled to this region in the 1800's. In contrast, the Native people called the area, "The Smiles of Gods".

While it’s dry most of the year, in the early spring the Garden often looks like the “land of lakes,” as all of the water holes fill. In the spring, after the snow melt, the rocky Devil's Garden produces a veritable carpet of wild pink pansies, pink and red owl clover, yellow primroses and pink shooting stars. Purple lupine, yellow mules ear and the shiny green leaves of manzanita complete the rainbow of color that lasts well into the summer.  The farther north you travel, the Garden’s dryness gives way to conifer forests and is home to some of the biggest mule deer in the area.

Ducks on the water of Beeler Reservoir with treelined shore in the background aThe Devil's Garden lies directly under the Pacific Flyway. During their migration from Alaska and Canada to Mexico, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl use the wetlands as rest stops. Several of the reservoirs on the district are stocked by the California Dept of Fish and Game with bass or trout. The Garden is also shared by Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, turkeys, coyotes and wild horses.

A herd of mares and foals graze the dry, late summer grass.

The Devil’s Garden Plateau WHT is located in California approximately 7 miles north of Alturas. The territory consists of 258,000 acres of Forest Service land, 7,632 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Applegate Field Office (BLM) is included in the territory. Approximately 800 acres of Tribal Lands, 640 acres of California State Lands and 500 acres of private lands fall within the territorial boundaries; however, these lands are excluded from the territory.

The topography is a relatively flat continuous lava plateau. Average elevation is 5,000 feet. Precipitation is primarily from winter snow between November and March. Average annual precipitation is 12.6 inches. Temperatures during winter can be severe for short periods of time, and summer temperatures frequently exceed 90° Fahrenheit.

Vegetation is typical of high desert plateau sagebrush-steppe ecosystems. It is fairly uniform and consists primarily of western juniper, big sagebrush, perennial grasses, and annual grasses.

Wildlife present within the territory includes deer, antelope, rabbits, and rodents.

The entire territory is within permitted livestock allotments.

Wild horses have been present on the Devil’s Garden Plateau since shortly after the first settlement. Many of the early horses escaped from settlers or were released when their usefulness as domestic animals ended. The first roundup occurred as early as 1889.  In later years, local ranchers turned horses out to graze and then gathered them as needed. Not all were ever captured. With the passage of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act (PL 92-195) , private horse roundups ended. In 1974, as an initial step toward management, the Forest Service inventoried the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse population for the first time. The new Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan, completed in 2013, set an Appropriate Management Level (AML) of a maximum of 402 total horses.

Horses can be seen in many colors and sizes. The dominant colors are roan, black and bay; however, gray, buckskin, palomino, and sorrel are also found with some frequency.

Visit the Modoc National Forest website for the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory.

Four of the five developed campgrounds on the Devil's Garden charge no fees for camping, day use or boat launching. Even so, these facilities rarely fill to capacity and are considered the perfect getaway by the few who venture there.