Joshua Tree History
Joshua Tree is nestled in a segment of the Southeastern California’s Mojave Desert, thirty-five miles from Palm Springs, California off the I-10 freeway on State Route 62. Joshua Tree is the gateway community to the West Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, an 800,000 acre wilderness preserve, with groves of Joshua Trees, incredible multi-colored, gigantic boulders and some the best rock climbing in the world!
The community of Joshua Tree encompasses 96 square miles and is adorned with spectacular desert and geological scenery in addition to the ancient Joshua tree itself. It is believed that Mormon pioneers, traveling through the area, named this tree after the biblical figure Joshua, because its uplifted limbs reminded them of him praying and waving to the heavens. Later, an early western explorer, John Fremont called the Joshua tree, “The most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.” This tree is unlike any other, and it does create atypical responses. The Joshua tree does not have growth rings like a normal tree, so determining its age can be difficult. But, most biologists have estimated the age range of these trees to be somewhere around 500 to 900 years old. This spectacular tree, protected by law, is considered a prominent icon of the area.
The earliest known history on the Joshua Tree community is when homesteaders first filed on a site in the fall of 1911. Within a few short years, the Joshua Tree Townsite Company constructed its first offices along the Twentynine Palms Road, close to the West Park Entrance. Then in 1938, Congress passed the “Baby Homestead Act,” allowing five-acre, non-agricultural homestead sites. Developers had hoped this act would bring new settlers to the area but World War II intervened. Instead, the war triggered gas rationing, restrictions on building supplies, and prevented growth into the outlying desert areas. By 1941, Joshua Tree’s total population reached forty-nine people with twenty-two occupied buildings.
Towards the end of the conflict, cabins, homes, and commercial buildings sprouted up throughout the desert. In 1944, the Joshua Journal reported total population had increased to 227 inhabitants. A short time later, the first business block was built on the northwest corner of Park Blvd. with five stores connected under one roof. Subsequently, Joshua Tree opened its first Post Office. Grace Aldridge, postmaster, serviced her 300 postal clients out of the Little Joshua Tree Market. By 1947, there were 144 established buildings, forty-six new buildings under construction, and the population had expanded to 550 people. During this era, many of the early homesteaders built turkey ranches in the Sunfair vicinity with a turkey population well over 47,600; and there were plans to name the area Turkey Town, USA.
But for some unknown reason, these farms faded away. Wild turkeys are still spotted occasionally by local residents. Subsequently, new businesses, churches, schools, a fire station, live theatre, and a community center were established in the region. The Desert Tortoise, now a protected species, used to be the subject of “Turtle Races” in downtown Joshua Tree. Myrtle the Turtle, a large desert tortoise sculpture, has been a landmark in downtown Joshua Tree for many years.
Joshua Tree Today
Today, Joshua Tree, with an estimated population of approximately 9,000, is unincorporated and governed by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. The Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), a small group of residents and business people appointed by the Supervisor’s office, meets regularly to address local issues and provide feedback from public meetings to the County. Joshua Tree remains a favorite tourist destination for over a million people per year, and a weekend getaway for the Los Angeles, San Diego, Palm Springs and Las Vegas metro areas.
The weather is ten degrees cooler than the lower desert communities in summer and twenty degrees warmer than the mountain communities in the winter; creating near-perfect, year-round living with an average altitude of 2,700-3000 feet. Most rainfall occurs in July, August, and January - averaging four to six inches in annual precipitation. The climate is pleasantly moderate, discernibly four-seasoned, with smog-free air. The dawn skies and the evening sunsets are a photographer’s delight. The days are typically sunny and the star-studded night skies are nothing less than magnificent!
Annual celebrations and events are widely attended and enjoyed throughout southern California. They include the Turtle Days Street Fair in May. Other great local events include the Joshua Tree Music Festival, Copper Mountain College’s “Earthworks Now,” The Gram Parsons Festival, Open Studio Art Tours and The Sportsman’s Club’s Gem & Mineral Show. Please contact the Chamber for dates and times.
Shops and Services
Several small shopping centers supply Joshua Tree residents and visitors with fine art and local crafts in small galleries and shops, with plenty of souvenirs to be found at local gift shops and in the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor’s Center. Joshua Tree hosts beauty salons, rock climbing shops, health food stores, gourmet foods, cafes and restaurants, a saloon, physicians, dentists, a hobby shop, gas stations, a music store, auto repair shops, and a laundromat. The US Post Office, The Hi-Desert Playhouse Cultural Center, MBTA (public bus service), San Bernardino County Court House, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the Hi-Desert Airport serve local inhabitants and guests.
Residents enjoy clean, pure water from local wells drawn from aquifers (below ground lakes) from the Joshua Basin Water District. Other services to the community are Southern California Edison for electricity; Verizon for telephone; and in limited areas, Southern California Gas. Satellite and cable are both available for television viewing; plus there is a wide variety of Internet access portals (including dial-up, DSL, and satellite) offered to World-Wide Web users. Hi-Desert Publishing is the local newspaper source (Hi-Desert Star and The Desert Trail); and great local radio can be found at 92.1 (Alternative and Hip/Hop), 96.3 (Country), and 107.7 (community).
The town employs the San Bernardino County Fire Department for major emergency services. Morongo Basin Ambulance Association provides outstanding medical emergency services to the area. The Hi-Desert Memorial Health Care District is comprised of 179 licensed beds: The Hi-Desert Medical Center is a modern, 59-bed acute care hospital providing 51 medical, surgical, and telemetry beds; a four-bed intensive care unit; a comprehensive birthing center; a 14-bed emergency department; as well as radiology, laboratory and cardiopulmonary departments. The District also operates the Continuing Care Center, a 120-bed skilled nursing facility on the campus of Hi-Desert Medical Center. Airway Outpatient Center, a full-service outpatient surgery and diagnostic center, and The Behavioral Health Centre-providing partial hospitalization services-are both located in Yucca Valley. Home Health & Hospice, and a variety of community outreach services are also provided. The local American Red Cross is utilized for disaster services, first aid, and training.
There are two outstanding elementary schools located in Joshua Tree: Friendly Hills Elementary and Joshua Tree Elementary. Within the local basin-wide area, there are 2 high schools, two middle schools, continuation schools, and private schools - all available with bus service. For complete public school information, please call the Morongo Basin Unified School District at 760-367-9191. We are privileged to include in our area, Copper Mountain Community College - offering 2-year transferable, associate degrees, in addition to A+, Microsoft, and Cisco Certifications.
The Joshua Tree Park and Recreation Community Center on Sunburst Avenue in Joshua Tree contains playgrounds, tennis courts, handball courts, a skate park for skateboarders, and picnic facilities. The center supports the “Joshua Tree Kids Club” - a safe, supervised, educational, and recreational program for children before and after school. There is a senior nutrition center available and a variety of ongoing community classes for all age groups. In addition, the Joshua Tree area has multiple community associations, clubs, nd organizations covering a wide range of activities for all interest groups. Downtown Joshua Tree incorporates SBC’s Joshua Tree Public Library. The library carries a large array of books and periodicals, in addition to providing free Internet access to the public.