Just last week, I returned to one of my favorite places in the world: Joshua Tree National Park.
A native of Southern California, I have visited it many, many times throughout my life, ever since I was a young girl: with family, with friends, and alone. This place is full of wonder, beauty, and a clear clean vastness which tricks your eyes and makes you never quite certain if the rock, rise, or Joshua tree you see in the distance is close enough to touch or miles and miles away. I’ve hiked here, camped here, explored here, laughed and talked here, sighed, embraced, and frolicked with my first love here; I’ve experienced companionship, loneliness, solitude, joy, pain, and peace here. Joshua Tree played a great role in the development of my mind, soul, and heart. The beauty and richness of this place have thus affected so many others, including and especially one other woman, and it shaped her life:
There was once a natural wonder in the California desert — one you may not have heard of — that was essentially destroyed 90 years ago because people wanted desert plants for their own gardens.
One Pasadena-based environmental activist was horrified at that destruction. Her response forever changed the way Californians look at the desert, and earned her a permanent place in the pantheon of California environmentalist women… – Chris Clarke
…This woman was Minerva Hoyt.
Not many will recall Minerva Hamilton Hoyt and her tireless efforts on behalf of California desert protection. In fact, without her leadership, Joshua Tree National Park might never have become part of the National Park System. How a transplanted southern belle born on a Mississippi plantation became a staunch backer of the protection of desert landscapes is perhaps one of the more unlikely stories in the annals of national park history.
Minerva Hamilton led a genteel early life attending finishing schools and music conservatories. Her marriage to Dr. Sherman Hoyt led her away from the deep south to New York and eventually to South Pasadena where she immersed herself in southern California high society and civic causes. She demonstrated talent as an organizer of special charity events and developed a passion for gardening, which introduced her to some of the native desert vegetation commonly used in southern California landscaping. Trips to the desert instilled in Ms. Hoyt a strong appreciation for the austere beauty and wonderful inventiveness of desert plants that somehow managed to thrive in the harsh climate. She also saw the widespread destruction of native desert plants by thoughtless people who dug up, burned, and other wise destroyed so many of the cacti and Joshua trees that Minerva found beautiful.
Following the deaths of her son and husband, Minerva dedicated herself to the cause of protecting desert landscapes… – Joseph W. Zarki
Here’s a photo journal of some of the beauties I marveled at on my latest visit, including the marvelous desert plants Minerva Hoyt loved so well. There were some wildflowers already in bloom, but this was mid-March, a little early for wildflowers at the higher, cooler, western Mohave Desert end of the park. I heard they were in full bloom at the eastern, lower, warmer Colorado Desert end of the park, but I was with a large family group during this visit and we were unable to round everyone up to make the additional drive.
Following these photos, you’ll find links to articles and books where you can read more about this hero of conservation. The political climate we find ourselves in in the United States does not bode well for the conservation of our greatest national wonders. Yet I hope the great vision of Minerva Hoyt, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt (and later his cousin Franklin, who established Joshua Tree National Park by proclamation), and so many others who fought the good fight on its behalf, fueled by the love of nature which ennobles every heart it finds a home in, continues to win over the hearts and minds of all Americans. This is our pride and our heritage, and once gone, it may never return.
Sources and Inspiration
Bishop, Kim. ‘How One Tireless Advocate Protected Joshua Tree National Park‘. Aug 8, 2016, San Bernardino County Sun
Clarke, Chris. ‘The Woman Who Saved The California Desert‘. March 11, 2016, KCET.org
Kaufman, Polly Welts. National Parks and the Woman’s Voice: A History. University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
Zarki, Joseph W. Joshua Tree National Park, for Images of America book series. Arcadia, 2015
Zarki, Joseph W. ‘Minerva Hoyt‘. For the National Park Service at nps.gov
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