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Joshua Tree National Park

The lands that comprise Joshua Tree National Park are deeply beautiful, mysterious, misunderstood, and threatened.

The park’s namesake isn’t actually a tree, it is actually a yucca plant. They are incredibly fragile. Humans are a threat to their existence, making Instagram influencers taking photos crawling all over them to be especially dangerous. A 20 foot Joshua Tree could be 100-200 years old, yet a few model shots can be enough to kill them. Not sure if that is true? Take one trip on Park Blvd through Queen Valley to see for yourself. Joshua Trees, like many outsized flora, tend to die by toppling. Look at the dead plants for yourself and consider how many are located right off the road, and right by a turn-out. Humans are apex predators to these endangered plants.

The Joshua Trees in the park grow in an especially ideal environment. They prefer elevation, with 3,000 to 4,000 feet being preferred. The soils need to be just right. They don’t grow well on talus slopes like some of their cousins in the yucca family. The “trees” of this park are thought to be the Western variety, and look much different than the ones you find on the Cima Dome of Mojave National Preserve, or in Arizona and Utah. This is likely a remnant forest. The Joshua Trees probably had a much more extensive range during the last glacial period, and with the colder and drier environment, may have been more present at slightly lower populations. With climate change in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Joshua Trees are likely located at the top of their range, with higher elevations with ideal soil scarce and often too cold in the Winter. Enjoy these forests while you can.

Prior to its protection as a National Monument, these lands were more important as a mining resource. Indeed, mines dot the entire park. A couple are still in good historic condition, and luckily none are currently active.

Rock climbers were quick to realize the potential of all of Joshua Tree’s monzogranite, and they have done much to make the park a worldwide destination. Nearly every rock and rockface has been named, many with humorous and idiosyncratic names for all to enjoy. Even watching the rock climbers scale these faces is a worth spectator sport.

Rock climbers were quick to realize the potential of all of Joshua Tree’s monzogranite, and they have done much to make the park a worldwide destination. Nearly every rock and rockface has been named, many with humorous and idiosyncratic names for all to enjoy. Even watching the rock climbers scale these faces is a worth spectator sport.

The monument was made into an official National Park in 1994 with the California Desert Protection Act. While this brought funding and prestige to Joshua Tree, it also brought immense crowds and exposed many of the shortcomings of the National Park Service. Official visitation was listed at 2.8 million in 2019 but was likely much higher considering there is no gate at the South Cottonwood Springs entrance. It appears that NPS has not adapted and has no conservation plan in place. What happens when attendance hits 4 million?

Having grown up in the Inland Empire, Joshua Tree was a frequent visit. The park wasn’t as busy then, and I can see a big difference in both the number of people and their impact on the land. I type this, just South of the park boundary in my car on BLM property.

It is my hope that Joshua Tree sees a big change in how they approach conservation. We have signs not to collect wood for fires (tough to do in this park), and there are a few tortoise crossing signs, but where is the education about the fragility of the flora? A few signs at each entrance, asking people to not climb, touch, or disturb the namesake Joshua Trees would go a long way to educate people and encourage better behavior. I am not kidding when I say that one volunteer keeping up the joshuatreehatesyou Instagram account is doing more conservation work than the entire staff of the park! Why not seek out volunteers during key weekends and busy dates. Let them buy a Volunteer Conservation Patrol t-shirt, station them in key areas, especially in Lost Horse and Queen Valleys, and provide an additional visual reference for the visitors. This isn’t expensive, and it isn’t that hard to do!

The future of this amazing land is under threat, but there is time to scale back the damage. Let’s hope some people with vision are able to make this happen.

Galleries

Exploring Joshua Tree Photography Gallery

Last updated: December 28, 2020 at 8:50 am
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