Joshua Tree National Park was first established as a national monument in 1936 and then became a national park in 1994. The park was established to preserve an ecologically dynamic region of the California Desert, a transition zone between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. The park provides recreational opportunities to approximately 1.2 million visitors annually, and protects and preserves a rich array of natural and cultural resources.
Two desert ecosystems merge within Joshua Tree National Park, creating unique associations of plants and animals. The Colorado Desert occupies the eastern half of the park where creosote bush, ocotillo, and palo verde dominate. The Mojave Desert spans the higher, western half of the park where it is slightly cooler and wetter. The Joshua tree is a critical component of the Mojave Desert ecosystem and provides habitat for birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. Five fan palm oases support vegetation and wildlife distinct from the species found in the rest of the park.
Despite the seeming vastness of the desert landscape, the park’s ecosystems are fragile and marked by climatic extremes. Natural water sources in the park are scarce, and the land appears parched. Rainfall is infrequent, but sudden downpours occasionally inundate the land.
Wildlife includes desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, desert iguanas, roadrunners, and a range of other species that represent important park resources.
The park offers remarkable geologic displays of exposed granite monoliths and rugged mountains of rock. Washes, playas, and alluvial fans form an extensive and complex desert mosaic.
In addition to its extensive natural resources, the park also offers a rich cultural history. During the wetter Pleistocene Era, the Pinto Culture lived in the Pinto Basin region as hunters and gatherers along what used to be a slow-moving river. Several American Indian groups lived in the area after Pinto Culture; traces of their existence include petroglyphs, pictographs, and ceramic pottery found in washes and among rock formations.
In the late 1800s prospectors, cattle ranchers, and miners arrived in the desert. These settlers built dams and mines; their remnants are found at Ryan Ranch, Desert Queen Mine, Barker Dam, and Desert Queen Ranch, which are all popular visitor destinations today.
In the 1930s, aided by the construction of new roads and the advancement of the automobile, homesteaders moved into the desert region. As settlers claimed homesteads on desert tracts, increased human contact began to impact the fragile desert ecosystems.
These stresses to the desert landscape inspired Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a Pasadena resident, to work to bring national attention to the issue of desert protection. She was instrumental in helping to establish Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936.
Located 140 miles east of Los Angeles and just north of Palm Springs, the park provides an escape from urban pressures, a place in which to experience solitude and wilderness.
Visitors come to Joshua Tree National Park to bird-watch, backpack, camp, hike, horseback ride, and rock climb. The park is recognized worldwide as a rock climbing destination with more than 4,500 established climbing routes concentrated within approximately 100,000 acres of land in the western section of the park. During wet years, the park offers a vivid display of wildflowers, attracting a higher numbers of visitors.
Exploding rates of population and economic growth in Southern California have transformed Joshua Tree National Park into an ecological region surrounded by freeways, highways, industrial sites, cities, and planned communities. Expansion of human activities along park boundaries has created new challenges for the park managers in terms of protecting park resources, mitigating visitor impact, and minimizing the incompatible use of boundary areas.