Nestled between Barstow and Needles along historic Route 66 is one of the many natural treasures to be found in the Mojave Trails National Monument —the nearly 79,000-years-old Amboy Crater. According to scientists, the extinct cinder cone crater last erupted more than 10,000 years ago.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to go, they would have a great time.”

The Mojave Trails National Monument designated by former President Barack Obama in 2016. When the monument was established, then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of southern California.” She further defined it as, “An oasis of nature’s quiet beauty just outside two of our nation’s largest metropolitan areas.” Despite its proximity to Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, far too many local residents have never explored its wonders.

This week, in an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Salcedo, a fourth grader at Werner Elementary School in Rialto, this writer experienced some of the wonders of this monument through the eyes of young “Queen Elizabeth,” a nickname bestowed on her by the school’s Vice Principal, Dr. Ayanna Ibrahim-Balogun.

Dr. Ibrahim-Balogun sponsors a mentoring program for young girls at the school and wanted them to experience something outside of San Bernardino. She reached out to Rialto Board of Education Member Dina Walker, and together with Salcedo’s mother who actively supports the Diva Program, they facilitated the recent trip to Amboy Crater.

As young Queen Elizabeth described the trip, her excitement and enthusiasm was palpable. “Everyone should have the experience. They would have a great time,” she proclaimed.

As Elizabeth shared more about the day her enthusiasm was tempered with wisdom as she described one of her key learnings about how to care for yourself in the desert. “You need to drink a lot of water,”she advised and then gave an example of why it was so important to do so.

According to Elizabeth, the day her group visited the area was very, very hot but it did not tamper their enthusiasm. “As soon as we reached the top of the mountain there was hole and you could look into the volcano,” she shared enthusiastically. She then went on to describe what the visit meant to her.

This was Elizabeth’s first visit to the desert and although she did not see any desert wildlife that day, she saw lots of different desert plants that were new to her. “There are so many different things you don’t get to experience where we live,” she commented. “Everyone should have the opportunity to go, they would have a great time.”

Elizabeth talked about how she has since shared her experiences at Amboy Crater with peers at school and her older siblings. “I told them about the volcano and what it was like climbing to the top and looking down. There are a lot of rocks.”

Elizabeth also commented about her particular fascination with the black rocks flecked with gold found at the site and expressed appreciation that she and the others were allowed to take some home with them as a reminder of their experience.

 Although the young Queen has yet to decide where she wants to go to college or what her career choice will be, she obviously gained a new-found appreciation for nature and the environment. She also expressed an interest in exploring a career related to water.

Speaking with the articulate and expressive young Elizabeth, it was hard to believe she was the same shy and tentative girl Dr. Ibrahim-Balogun said entered the Diva Program just a few short months ago.

“The program was developed to help our young ladies with social skills. They are coached to become leaders. We focus on reading skills, how to get along with each other and be good friends with one another,” Dr. Ibrahim-Balogun explained. The program also creates opportunities for the girls to experience things they haven’t experienced before and to talk about those experiences.

This is the Diva Program’s second year and currently there are two groups of participants. One group includes girls in grades two and three, the other group consists of girls in grades four and five.

As part of the program, the girls have opportunities to earn different levels of recognition (Diamond or Platinum) based on a number of factors. According to Dr. Ibrahim-Balogun, “Elizabeth is one of the highest-ranking members and was selected for the field trip because, “She comes to school, gets amazing grades, has good leadership skills, reads all the time and does very well in our leadership program.”

“The most important thing we do is ‘circle time,’” Elizabeth offered. “Whatever we say does not go out of the circle, she added. “We share personal things within the group of sisters and we do sisterhood time. Sometimes we let out personal things that make us cry. Sometimes we share happy things. What is most important is all of the sisterhood things we do together. The Diva Club is a really special thing to me. Every Thursday we meet and read books. This is the first club I’ve ever been in.”