Surprise Canyon

Whoever named Surprise Canyon got it right. Mere miles from bone-dry Death Valley, the canyon cradles two unexpected jewels: a gushing mountain stream and what’s left of a once-bustling silver-mining town.

These treasures have attracted visitors for decades — and now they’re at the heart of a legal battle between off-road drivers and environmentalists.

Five years ago, environmentalists successfully sued to get the narrow canyon and its spring-fed waterfalls closed to vehicles, arguing that the federal Bureau of Land Management was not carrying out its duty to protect the land.

In response, more than 80 off-roaders purchased tiny pockets of private land at the top of the canyon, and now they are suing the federal government for access to their property, arguing that the canyon is a public right of way.

It is one of several recent cases that could unlock thousands of miles of roads in federally protected parks around the West.

Courtesy: Gillian Flaccus & Heidi Walton, AP