Saturday, February 12, 2011

Travel: Mojave Desert National Preserve

MDNP boasts the densest Joshua tree forest in the world.
Joshua Tree (yucca brevifoilia)
Found at high elevation, 1300-6000 feet, Joshua trees are a Mojave Desert indicator species. Among the fastest growing desert plants, seedlings grow as much as 3 inches per year, Joshua's are also long-lived, some hundreds, even thousands  of years old.
The Preserve, unlike most National Park Service administered places, allows camping just about anywhere (our camp shown here is on a two-track off one of the few hard roads within the preserve) and also unlike most allows hunting, dogs off leash as well as motorized travel on just about any trail (no off road, thank goodness). Encompassing over a 1.5 million acres there are just two relatively small developed campgrounds, one of which discourages trailers and RVs. Hunters can expect to find mule deer, desert bighorn, chukar and Gambel's quail. All hunting is subject to California seasons and regulations.
Mid-19th century Mormon settlers found the tree's unique shape reminiscent of the Biblical story in which  Joshua reaches to the heavens in prayer. Later miners and ranchers utilized the trunks and branches to fuel ore-processing steam engines and for fencing.

The trunk of a Joshua tree is made of thousands of small fibers and lacks annual growth rings, making it difficult to determine age. Sporting a top-heavy branch system as well as a deep and extensive root system, often spreading 30 or more feet. The tallest reach 40 feet or so. Seedlings grow from seed but some sprout from rhizomes. It flowers but only in wet years.

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