The history of Joshua Tree National Park is, of course, rooted in the Joshua tree itself. When western explorer John C. Fremont encountered a Joshua tree in 1844, he described it as "the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom." An overstatement? Perhaps. But Fremont's words contain a grain of truth. With its shaggy bark, ungainly limbs, and clusters of daggerlike leaves, the Joshua tree is truly an odd-looking plant.
This oversized member of the lily family has also had its share of admirers. After struggling across the Mojave Desert in 1849, William Manly called it a "brave little tree to live in such barren country." And a party of Mormon emigrants passed through in 1851. As the story goes, they took courage from the upraised limbs that seemed to beckon them across the desert just as, in biblical times, Joshua called forth the Israelites: "These green trees are lifting their arms to heaven in supplication. We shall call them Joshua trees!"
The region of the Mojave Desert now known as Joshua Tree National Park attracted a variety of human inhabitants over the years, including the native Serrano and Chemehuevi Indians, who trapped small game in the underbrush and gathered the nutrient-rich seeds of palm trees and mesquite. Meanwhile, a steady stream of prospectors and teamsters used the oases in the region as way stations in their travels across the desert, and ranchers utilized them to graze and water livestock. As always in the desert, these precious water sources were the hub of both human and animal activity.
The diverse ecosystems and unusual plant and animal life found in Joshua Tree National Park make it well worth visiting. You can enjoy oases, rock formations, wildlife, and stark desert vegetation -- and it's all within an hour's drive of Palm Springs.
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