Alta Journal, Print and Online: This Place Belongs to You Alta Journal: 5,200-word profile of Joshua Tree National Park and its superintendent, David Smith

It’s an April afternoon in hallowed ground—“JTree,” as the climbers like to call the place. The fabled Joshua trees are in bloom, as are the globe mallows, the Mojave kingcup cacti, and the desert dandelions. A lone coyote trots across Park Boulevard and vanishes into a chaos of rock. If you look carefully, in the distance, you’ll see the telltale remains of a prehistoric supercontinent called Rodinia, with its remnant lodes of pinto gneiss. Closer by, Skull Rock bristles with tourists and their selfie sticks, cars clot the entrance stations, and in many places, invasive mistletoe chokes the creosote. Still, up on Sheep Pass, during a rare pause between the caravans of Sprinter vans, you might just hear the susurrus of yucca moths’ wings as they carry pollen between Joshua trees.

All of this—800,000 acres of contradiction—coexists at California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Here, untrammeled beauty survives beside concrete curbs that rim the crowded loop road; paved and striped parking lots abut chimneyed outhouses under a cloudless azure vault. And then there are cars. Lots of them. And the people inside them, who number in the millions.

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