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- Joshua Tree National Park - Part 1 -
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JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK is composed of two large ecosystems. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert includes the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree.
    Artefacts found along a now extinct water course in the Pinto Basin indicate that earliest known human occupation of the area dates from between four to eight thousand years ago. The Pinto culture was first described by amateur archeologists, William and Elizabeth Campbell in the 1930s.
    The Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Serrano people arrived long after the Pinto era. The Chemehuevi migrated into Southern California approximately four hundred years ago and their territories included the Pinto Basin and the Coxcomb Mountains in what is now the eastern portion of Joshua Tree National Park. The Cahuilla lived in small communes near reliable water in both the western and the southern parts of the park.
    Edible plant resources eg acorns, nuts, pods, seeds, berries, and cactus fruits were available to the immigrants. Plants were also used for making bows and arrows, baskets, mats and other articles.

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    Even before the California Gold Rush of 1849, prospectors were finding gold in southern California. A total of about 300 mines were developed in what is now the Joshua Tree National Park - although most produced little gold. An exception, the Lost Horse Mine, produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver between 1894 and 1931. Miners used the Joshua trees as a source of fuel for the steam engines employed in processing the ore.
    Homesteaders living in the park area from the 1870s until 1945 had a difficult life. For instance, the barren land could only provide food for just one adult animal to every 15 or more acres of land. The homesteaders used the limbs and trunks of the Joshua trees for fencing and corrals.
    The region was declared a National Monument in 1936, and a National Park in 1994.

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   The Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, a giant member of the lily family, lies within in a subgroup of flowering plants which includes grasses and orchids. Trees can reach a height of 50 feet and may live for up to 1000 years although accurate dating is very difficult - not being trees in the true sense of the word, they have no annual growth rings.
    The tree was recognized by Native Americans for its useful properties; tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and raw or roasted flower buds and seeds made a healthy addition to the diet.
    White or greenish flowers may appear from March to May, but the trees need the correct combination of temperature and moisture for this to occur and several years may pass without flowers being produced.
    Pollination requires the services of the yucca moth. The moth collects pollen while laying her eggs inside the flower. The eggs hatch into larve which feed on some of the developing seeds. The Joshua tree is also capable of regenerating from roots and branches.

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    Clusters of Joshua tree can be found in several Southwest states where temperature, drainage and rainfall are suitable. Apart from the National Park, the plant is often to be found throughout the Mojave Desert and in parts of Nevada, northeast Arizona and southern Utah, particularly at elevations of from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. The tree forms an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem by providing habitats for numerous mammals, birds, lizards and insects.
    Legend has it that the tree was named by Mormon pioneers in the nineteenth century who thought that the upturned branches resembled the outstretched arms of the prophet, Joshua, either in supplication or pointing the way to the promised land.

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