In 1934, when Roger Toll, then Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, inspected the Joshua Tree area for the National Park Service, he was impressed by a relatively dense cover of desert biota in the higher-elevation Mojave
Desert section of the future national monument. Photograph by Roger Toll, March 9, 1934. Harpers Ferry Center, Joshua Tree National Park Collection, WASO-H-703.
Many tall Joshua trees such as this one in Queen Valley greeted National Park Service (NPS) inspectors as they visited the new monument in 1936. Neither the tree nor any record of its fate exists today. Photograph by George A. Grant, a photographer for the NPS. Harpers Ferry Center, Grant Collection, JOTR #32, National Park Service.
The jumbled rock formations plus the botanical diversity of California’s two deserts—the Colorado and Mojave—attracted hikers and campers long before President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the monument on August 10, 1936. Today,
as a national park, it hosts more than 2,000,000 visitors per year. Photograph by Ralph Anderson, December 1939. Harpers Ferry Center, Anderson Collection, JOTR #92A, National Park Service.
Camping in Joshua Tree National Monument was haphazard before the National Park Service paved the roads and organized a pattern of campground loops. This bird’s-eye image of Hidden Valley was taken during the late 1930s. Photographer unknown. Joshua Tree National Park Photo Archives, Cat. 20575, Image 2176.
Exploring Joshua Tree National Monument during 1939 meant finding one’s way through scores of rough dirt tracks. Here, deep ruts show the immediate popularity of Cap Rock as a destination. Photograph by Ralph Anderson, December 1939. Harpers Ferry Center, Anderson Collection, JOTR #53, National Park Service.
Movie producers found the scenery of Joshua Tree National Monument perfect for film-making, especially Westerns. One of the better-known movies filmed in the monument was “Buck Benny Rides Again,” starring Jack Benny, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Ellen Drew. Released by Paramount Pictures in 1940, the site was supposed to be a Nevada ranch. Photograph by Ralph Anderson taken near Lost Horse Well on December 17, 1939. Harpers Ferry Center, JOTR Collection, National Park Service.
The William F. and Frances Keys Ranch in 1969. The remote 160-acre homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Today, the ranch serves as the primary interpretive feature in the park. The ranch house, schoolhouse, store, and workshop still stand and the orchard replanted. The land, of course, is also littered with rusting cars, trucks, and mining equipment. Photograph by F. Ross Holland. Joshua Tree National Park Photo Archives, Cat. 20575, Image 2237.
The Lost Horse Mine in 1967 before the headframe collapsed. From 1894 to 1931, the mine produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver. The mine has also suffered dangerous deterioration below the surface, and
the park site remains unstable. Photograph by Donald Black. Joshua Tree National Park Photo Archives, Cat. 20575, Image 1370.
The San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, San Bernardino, and San Gabriel Mountains west of Joshua Tree National Park intercept moist, westerly winds and create a rainshadow effect that reinforces the park’s desert climate. The high snow-covered peak is 10,834-foot Mount San Jacinto. Photograph by the author, January 2013.
Skull Rock and most other exposed boulders in Joshua Tree National Park have undergone a process called exfoliation that causes onion-like layers of rock to peel away from the surface after the overburden has been removed. Here, erosion at the level of the former soil surface has formed small, cave-like indentations called tafoni, which give the boulder its striking appearance. Photograph by the author, January 2009.
Joshua trees dominate the vegetation in the higher-elevation Mojave Desert along the road from Hidden Valley to Keys View. A few other places in California boast similar stands of the iconic species, but none can match the surrounding sculpture of the rocky mountains and outcrops. Photograph by the author, January 2014.
Early campers used the Split Rock site before the establishment of the national monument in 1936. Today, the parking area gives easy access to those who wish to go “bouldering” or picnicking in the rugged topography. Photograph by the author, January 2013.
Today, Cap Rock is the site of a .4-mile nature trail and is popular for informal instruction in basic rock climbing. Here, a climbing instructor demonstrates technique. Photograph by the author, January 2013.
Cecil Doty, one of the National Park Service’s most influential architects, designed the Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) Visitor Center, a classic example of Mission 66 architecture that was completed in 1963. The new building gave JTNP’s staff additional space, but the fact that it sat upon the Pinto Mountain Fault led the agency to study a new location outside the original Oasis of Mara tract. The author took this photograph from the nature trail through the Oasis of Mara, January 2014.
In this view of the Pinto Basin looking east from the Cholla Cactus Garden, one sees a rich display of silver cholla cactus (genus Opuntia) and, in the distance, the surrounding mountain ranges that were removed from the monument in 1950 to placate miners. They were returned to the park in 1994 with few new mining claims. Photograph by the author, January 2013.
Joshua Tree National Park Ranger Chad Riggin stands next to one of the largest Joshua trees in the relatively cool and better-watered Covington Flat area of the park. The vegetation here and in the wilderness areas nearby includes arboreal species such as the single-leaf pinyon (piñon) pine (Pinus monophyllia) and California juniper (Juniperus californica) as well as the park's namesake species (Yucca brevifolia). Photograph by the author, January 2013.