The Geography and natural History

Joshua Tree California and its surrounding area is known as the Morongo Basin. The area is a 5,200 square miles desert ranging from 1,500 to nearly 6,000 feet. The area is composed of two deserts. The low desert area called the Colorado goes up to 3,000. The Mojave Desert in the region ascends up to nearly 6,000 feet. Currently in the area there are 700 plant species, 240 bird species, 40 mammals, and 45 reptile species.

The Cultural Arts

The Morongo Basin also has a rich history in the cultural arts going back to the 1930's. In the 1960's a variety of celebrity notables discovered the unique area. Such as the Rolling Stones and Country Rock innovator Gram Parsons and British Folk singer Donavon resided in the area. Currently amongst others notable's International Jazz Diva Nancy Wilson makes the area her home along with British Rock legend Eric Burden of the Animal. Today there is a large cultural Arts renaissance going on in the Morongo Basin. The community is filled with artists, musicians, writers and theatre companies. The area is known for its songwriter singer movement. The Morongo Basin cultural Arts Council has been leading the way in unifying the visual Arts community and developing the Arts as an economic force. The High Desert Living Arts Centre is conducting grass roots community arts programs. A number of music festivals and an annual Artist Studio tour are attracting visitors from around the world. The area attracts 1.3 milltion visitors a year.

Joshua Tree National Park

Humans have occupied the area encompassed by Joshua Tree National Park's nearly 800,000 acres for at least 5,000 years. The first group known to inhabit the area was the Pinto Culture, followed by the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla, hunting and gathering along a slow-moving river that ran through the now dry Pinto Basin. Later, other American Indian groups traveled through this area in tune with harvests of pinyon nuts, mesquite beans, acorns, and cactus fruit, leaving behind rock painting and pottery as reminders of their passing. The Indians used over 120 plants for raw materials, medicine and food. The indigenous people were gone by 1913

In the 1800s cattlemen drove their cows into the area for the ample grass available at the time and built water impoundments for them. Miners dug tunnels through the earth looking for gold and made tracks across the desert with their trucks. By the mid 19th century, Mormon migrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the prophet Joshua, seeing the Joshua tree limbs outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward. From 1863 to 1977 Homesteaders could claim 160 acre parcels.

By 1910, Bill Keys had arrived in Joshua Tree, having been hired as custodian and assayer of the Desert Queen Mine. Once prosperous, the mine had lost money in recent years. When it finally closed, Bill claimed it and a five-acre mill site for his unpaid wages. In 1917 Keys homesteaded additional acreage adjoining the mill site and this 160 acres became the Desert Queen Ranch. Keys married Frances Mae Lawton the next year. For 60 years Bill and Frances worked together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location.

Homesteaders came in the 1930's seeking free land and the chance to start new lives. They built cabins, dug wells, and planted crops.

After the area became a national monument in 1936, local and regional residents were the primary park visitors. As Southern California grew so did park visitation. Expanded automobile traffic found its way to the area. Weekend Californians came to the desert to enjoy the clean, clear air, but also to confiscate various species of cactus for their home landscaping. When Mrs. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a wealthy California society matron saw the devastation left by these weekend visitors, she persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect this area by proclaiming it a national monument on August 10th, 1936.

When President Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act and turned Joshua Tree National Monument gained National Park Status and grew to 105,900 acres its rise to prominence was complete. Joshua Tree now lies within a three-hour drive of more than 18 million people. As a next-door neighbor to the massive Los Angeles area, Joshua Tree has naturally become a very popular getaway but the park remains a wonderfully low-key place, 75 percent of its land designated wilderness.