Joshua Tree National Park was the first National Park I visited, although at the time it was then just a National Monument. I remember hiking and bouldering as a young kid, and then camping there as a Boy Scout. Both sides of my family also took us there, although I don’t remember doing much beyond walking around the rocks.
The California Desert Protection Act of 1994 established Joshua Tree National Park (as well as Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve)
Over the years, my appreciation of the park grew, especially as I spent more time doing photography.
I now spend every Christmas in Joshua Tree. When I started this, the park was sparsely visited during the Holiday, but has grown very popular. With the park closing in on 3 million visitors per year, the time will be reached when the solitude of the high desert reaches of the Joshua Tree will be non-existent. Let’s hope that lack of solitude will not foretell the dying off of the Joshua Trees themselves.
Recently, vandalism has followed the huge increase in visitors. Ryan Ranch was essentially destroyed, with beautiful adobe that had stood the test of time for nearly a century felled by jerks. An asshole named Andre Saraiva thought it was cool to deface rocks in the park. Carey’s Castle and El Sid are now permanently off-limits. For those who care and respect for this park, more and more of these off-beat places are no longer available.
Joshua Tree National Park was my first and the most important National Park of my life. I doubt I will ever feel a connection to a place quite like I do in JT. And yet, so many other people, through social media or word-of-mouth, are also creating an impact. I don’t know what Joshua Tree National Park will look like in 50 years.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.