Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree History

The twisted, bristled trees and intriguing rocky landscape give the impression that Joshua Tree National Park was ripped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Though remote, the park sits within a three-hour drive of more than 18 million people.

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a Pasadena socialite who was extremely fond of cacti and desert plants, grew concerned about the wanton removal and destruction of desert flora. Her tireless efforts to protect this area culminated in 825,000 acres being set aside as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936. The monument protected the unique assembly of natural resources convened by the junction of three of California's ecosystems: The Colorado Desert, a western extension of the vast Sonoran Desert; the southern boundary of the Mojave Desert which features critical habitat of the park's namesake, the Joshua tree; and the Little San Bernardino Mountains located above 4,000 feet, which provide habitat for California juniper and pinyon pine. The most extensive stands of the Joshua trees—which may have been dubbed by pioneers who thought the tree's outstretched limbs resembled Joshua, the biblical figure, in supplication—are primarily found in the western half of the park. The park's diverse flora is matched by its fauna, including herds of desert bighorn and six species of rattlesnakes. Migratory birds fly along the Pacific flyway, which also transects the park. It was for this unusual diversity of plants and animals that Joshua Tree National Monument was set aside. 

In 1976 Congress designated 420,000 acres within the monument as wilderness. Of the park's current 794,000 acres, 585,000 is designated wilderness. This allows visitors to explore areas that are in solitude. Joshua Tree received National Park status as part of the Desert Protection Bill on October 31, 1994. 

The park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic features found in California's desert areas. Exposed granite monoliths attract the rock climbers of all skill levels. Monzogranite, a molten liquid that was heated by the continuous movement of the Earth's crust, oozed upward and cooled while still below the surface. These plutonic intrusions then developed rectangular joints that went through a series of erosion forces that created the impressive rock formations present today. 

The presence of water, that rarest of desert commodities, allows life to flourish. Five of North America's 158 desert fan palm oases are located in Joshua Tree National Park. The Oasis of Mara is a cornerstone of the Joshua Tree National Park story. The oasis was first settled by the Serrano who called it Mara, "the place of little springs and much grass." Legend holds that they planted the palms which provided food, clothing, cooking implements and housing for them as well as a variety of desert creatures. In 1867 the Chemehuevi, another tribe, settled peacefully at the oasis with the Serrano. In the mid 1800's prospectors, brought by the gold rush, soon started to siphon water and cut trees. In 1880 cattleman moved into the area to take advantage of the high desert grasslands of the Pinto and Little San Bernadino Mountains. By 1913 the Serrano and Chemehuevi were gone. Their spirits are still with us in the pictographs, petroglyphs and the archaeological sites they left behind. The Oasis Visitor Center and nature trail at the Oasis of Mara give visitors a peek of history.