The Mojave Desert’s 32 million acres stretch from the southwest part of California through Nevada, northern Arizona and into Utah. South of Mojave’s western region sits the Colorado Desert’s 7 million acres. Making up just about 2% of these acres, in the southwest portion, is Joshua Tree National Park’s 800,000 acres. The National Park resides in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
Obviously, the park is named for its namesake tree. The Joshua Tree, or yucca brevifolia, grows only in the Mojave Desert, between the elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet. The tree’s name was originally thought to be given by Mormon settlers, who thought the tree’s stand-up posture and stretched branches mimicked Joshua from the Old Testament waiving them with upraised arms towards the Promised Land.
Check out the photolog below
The Joshua Tree is unique. The Joshua Tree pollinates with only one thing, the female Pronuba Moth (or tegeticula or yucca moth). The two have adapted together. The moth has developed special organs that collect the pollen from one flower and transfer it to another. The relationship between moth and tree are so symbiotic that the moth even lays her eggs on the flowers’ ovaries. When the eggs eventually hatch, the newborns feed on the Joshua Tree’s seeds.
The land’s history originates at least 5,000 years ago, in the Pinto era, in an environment so different than today’s. Today, Joshua Tree is a typical, arid high desert. 5,000 years ago we had moved out of the ice age. Joshua Tree and the rest of the Mojave Desert had a much milder climate. The weather and lands supported lakes where no water resides today. The plains were made up of verdant grasslands able to support the mammoths and equines of the day.
As the climate changed, so did those that inhabited Joshua Tree. As the climate changed from lush and green, it also changed how people occupied the lands. Much of the wildlife seemed to have given away without abundant water supply. Its occupation became more transient and centered around the limited number of areas with consistent supplies of water.
The Serranos are thought to be the first indian inhabitants. The Chemehuevi, or Southern Paiutes, migrated to Southern California and Joshua Tree somewhere around 1500s. The Chemehuevi temporarily replaced the Serranos at the Oasis at Mara after the Serranos were overtaken by smallpox. The Serranos returned to the Oasis as the Chemehuevi moved eastward into the Colorado Desert.
Like the Serranos, the Cahuilla Indians lived in areas where water had known supplies. Their territory extended from the Colorado River to the San Jacinto plain outside of Riverside.
To many, the desert seems to have few life sustaining resources. The indians proved otherwise. They hunted for game, including rabbits, deer, bighorn sheep, birds and reptiles. They lived on berries, seeds, fruits of cacti, acorns and other nuts.
The American expansion westward brought change. Ranchers and their cattle moved west and found areas in and around Joshua Tree with available grasslands. The California Gold Rush in mid 1800s brought the miners and their mines, searching for gold. The early 1900s brought the homesteaders and farmers.
Joshua Tree became a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994.