Inland or not, a “playa” needs two things: water and sand.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 through October 15. Friends of the Inyo would like to celebrate with our community by sharing the meanings of just a few Spanish-language words that have made their way into English.

Playa is one such word.

In Spanish, it usually means beach. But according to the Royal Spanish Academy’s website,, in some South American countries, playa can also mean a flat, wide and clear space intended for specific uses in towns and large-area industries: e.g., playa de estacionamiento means parking lot; playa de maquinaria de construcción means construction machinery yard.

In English, the meaning of playa, according to Merriam-Webster, is the flat-floored bottom of an undrained desert basin that becomes at times a shallow lake.  In Inyo County, we find such geological features in el Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley).

So it looks like you can’t have a playa without the presence of water (whether constant or intermittent) and sand.

By the way, did you know that Friends of the Inyo and its partners do playa restoration work in Death Valley, to erase tracks left by motor vehicles that go off designated roads? It’s called “vehicle trespass track effacement,” and it’s basically the erasing or disguising of tracks by making them blend into their surroundings, which is what the folks in the right photo of the composition above are doing. That photo was taken toward the end of last year, and our stewardship crews will be at it again before the end of this year after the weather cools down. Add THAT term AND playa to your conservation vocabulary.

Stay tuned for more fun linguistic posts during Hispanic Heritage Month.  In the meantime, read about vehicle trespass track effacement in the Spring 2021 Issue of our Jeffrey Pine Journal (pp. 18-19). Happy reading, and if you like what you read—and learn—happy sharing!