Joshua Tree National Park may be one of the great misnomers of the National Park Service. The origin story is fascinating. As with many parks, there was one person in particular who championed its preservation. In this case it was a dedicated woman named Minerva Hamilton Hoyt.
In the early 1900s it was popular on the west coast to go harvest desert plants and bring them to your garden. Understandably, these plants quickly died when removed from their fragile desert environment. In contrast, Hoyt loved observing the plants in their natural desert surroundings, but was devastated one day when she returned to her favorite Devil’s Garden “plot” to see it had been entirely ransacked and uprooted. After the death of her husband and son she threw herself into the cause of preserving the Mojave Desert area in southern California. She founded the International Deserts Conservation League and caught the ear of President Roosevelt. When NPS folks came down to survey the land for their parks proposal they were worried the desert wasn’t flashy enough. They thought the name Desert Plants National Park that Hoyt recommended just didn’t spark enough interest. So they looked around and decided to name the park after a unique, funny looking Dr. Seuss-like tree, the Joshua Tree. They either didn’t know or care that Joshua Trees only existed in the colder northwest quarter of the 825,000-acre park. But Hoyt got her desert protected and continued fighting for conservation throughout her life!
Personally, I think a more distinctive, accurate name could have been Two Deserts National Park. You see, Joshua Tree straddles the border where a sub-desert of the Sonoran Desert, the Colorado Desert, meets the Mojave Desert. The transition of plants and weather as we drove south to north through the park was fascinating. Unfortunately, no one asked me when Roosevelt signed the park into existence in 1936.
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We definitely saw our share of the crazy Joshua Trees throughout the park, but we also saw magnificent stacks of boulders, expansive desert vistas, ruined desert homesteads and lots more. Check it out in our Joshua Tree National Park video!
To learn about ranger programs 101 and the incredible range of Joshua Tree ranger programs we attended, check out our Joshua Tree post. Then meet our Joshua Tree People of the Parks. And learn more at the NPS site.