It doesn’t sound quite logical does it, but the cute little shore bird with short legs and a short neck actually might be winning a battle against 20 ton giant statues of an Egyptian king. You see it may be tiny but its got one big thing going for it, the Snowy Plover is on the U.S. endangered species list. So those little birds are standing strong against four 20 ton statues of Pharaoh Ramses among other giants.
Where the little birds have the giants is their breeding season is protected along the beaches of Guadalupe, California and other areas of Pacific coastline and no one can trespass in their nesting territory from March through September.
My interest in the giants and thus the Snowy Plover began when I first heard about Cecil B. DeMille‘s “Lost City in the Dunes” in Guadalupe, California. Guadalupe is a small town about 150 miles north of Los Angeles that you usually pass right through quickly on your way to San Francisco. But one thing they have is an area of towering sand dune the locals call “the dune that never moves.” All the shifting sands, winds, waves, mini tsunamis, nothing changes that particular area of sand dunes.
The reason the dunes don’t move is the sands are controlled by the remains of Cecil B. DeMille’s gigantic sets/props for his 1923 silent film “The Ten Commandments“. DeMille always did things on a big scale. Whereas the remake of this film in 1956 with Charlton Heston was made in Egypt, DeMille built Egypt outside Guadalupe, California. Over 1,000 workers labored in this area to recreate the City of the Pharaohs. The wall surrounding the temple rose 110 feet out of the sand. In addition to the four 20 ton statues of Pharaoh Ramses there were 21 mammoth sphinxes. There were 300 chariots to cart around the 3,500 actors on the film and over 5,000 animals used for various scenes. Statistics show these animals consumed 20,000 pounds of hay a day. Don’t know what they fed the lions assuming they had lions. I did learn the crew or some of the animals consumed 2,500 apples a day and 2,500 oranges a day. But lions wouldn’t eat those.
Okay, where do my cute little birds come in. Well to lead into that I have to tell you that for over 20 years filmmaker Peter Brosnan has been trying to create a major documentary “The Lost City of DeMille” telling about this City of Pharaohs movie set buried in the sand in Guadalupe. It’s been a long hard struggle for Mr. Brosnan since he was given DeMille’s autobiography in 1982 which described the building and burying of the set. The saga of following clues and locating the area and then of getting funding is so involved I won’t bore you with it. I’ll just pick up in 1988 when the site passed into the hands of The Nature Conservancy who backed the project to save the set. Then Hollywood Heritage organization offered nonprofit sponsorship and in 1990 Bank of America got into the act because their founder, the late A.P.Giannini was involved with funding DeMille’s original film on the site. Anyways, they now had money to hire an archeological survey that using ground penetrating radar found portions of the set recoverable and in good shape.
Still heading towards my little birds story so stay with me. January 2011 with $300,000 in hand Peter Brosnan received a permit exemption from the Planning and Development Department for his salvage operation at the protected archeological site. Eight highly qualified archeologists were set to get to serious work October 5th. Already using brushes and hand trowels they had come up with small material related to the 1923 film.
Then tragedy strikes. The little birds, NO! The Planning and Development Department claimed they made a mistake in giving the okay to proceed and 72 hours before work was to begin it was stopped. It was something about the Planning and Development people saying a grading permit was not necessary but the Coastal Development Department required a film permit.
Don’t try to figure this out. Just ask anyone who has tried to build in Santa Barbara about dealing with Coastal Development. According to newspaper reports Glenn Russell, director of Planning and Development feels badly about the situation and is quoted as saying “This is a project that is obviously good for the county and the community of Guadalupe and we want to make sure they get it done. We feel obligated to process those permits at no cost.”
Actually not a great deal of earth moving is involved. It is believed most of the artifacts are fairly near the surface of the dune. The archeologist have told the county that a family building a sand castle on the beach would move more sand and do more environmental damage than their project would.
Now the birds! Their nesting season starts March 1, 2012 through September 30th. That would mean no excavating for the Lost City until all those baby Snowy Plovers are hatched and ready to face the world on their own. This delays the project until October 2012. That’s why I say the tiny birds are really holding their own against the giant Pharaohs.
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend