It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who with the stroke of his pen made Joshua Tree a National Monument on August 10, 1936 (it became a National Park in 1994). However, those 825,000 acres (now: 792,510 acres) would never have been recognized as worth protecting had it not been for Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a southern belle and unlikely activist from Mississippi, who lived in Pasadena with her surgeon husband.
Minerva loved gardening, at a time when trendy Spanish mission-style architecture necessitated appropriate landscaping to match. Cactus gardens were popular as was the newfangled motor car (1920s). Weekend excursions to the southern California deserts became a pastime for many and an excuse to dig up a cactus or set fire to a Joshua tree.
The tallest Joshua tree was set aflame in 1930.
This well-connected lady convinced the President to do the right thing despite significant opposition from others who viewed the desert as wasteland. You can read more about Minerva’s story here.
Today, there are roughly 1,400,000 visitors per year, and here are 5 reasons why you should visit.
1. Joshua Tree National Park is in danger
“The National Parks Conservation Association repeatedly lists Joshua Tree National Park as one of the ten most threatened units in the entire national park system. The dangers include industrialization at a defunct mine less than one mile from the park’s boundary, the worst ozone pollution in the system, energy developments planned around the park, subdivisions under construction near its northern and southern boundaries, plus all the issues that come from overcrowding and crime in popular destinations.”
Source: “Joshua Tree National Park: A History of Preserving the Desert” (March 2015) prepared for the National Park Service. You can download the full report here.
2. The tree that is not a tree
The Joshua Tree is a misnomer it is not a tree, but the largest plant in the agave family. This gawky, spiky, evergreen grows predominately in the Mojave Desert (southwest California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona). The “tree” grows a few inches a year and can easily live to at least 150 years. This plant is a rare specimen that would not exist without an almost uncanny combination of seed pollination that is dependent on one particular variety of moth, perfectly timed rains and a good cold snap.
3. The rock formations are unbelievable
Over 1.7 billion years ago volcanic and tectonic activity began the creation of what is now Joshua Tree National Park. A little more recently, some 100+ million years ago, granite began forming from magma (molten liquid) that cooled beneath the earth’s crust and started cracking. This stone called Monzogranite is visible after millenniums of erosion; these formations that appear to be impossible stacks of boulders are a paradise for rock climbers.
4. Take a look at the Valley from another angle
At Key’s View 5185ft (1581m) you are at one of the highest points in the park. This viewpoint with an uninterrupted view of the Coachella Valley, San Jacinto, the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea is a perfect place for a photo-op.
5. It is a great place for a change of pace
The Park is several degrees cooler than most areas in the Coachella Valley making Joshua Tree National Park a great place for a hike or a ranger-led walk. Alternatively, let someone else do the driving. The expert team at Desert Adventures will show you some of the highlights of the Park and feed you lunch!
Enjoy your visit to Joshua Tree National Park and help preserve it for future generations.