The American Dream at the Edge of the Earth

At nearly 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park could comfortably house the entire state of Rhode Island atop its sun-bleached terrain. Here, under skies that boast world-class stargazing once the sun sets, prehistoric-looking Joshua trees mingle with elephant-sized boulders that seem designed to convince you that yes, in fact, you very well might be on the surface of the moon. The desert has never been known for its hospitality to living things, yet Joshua Tree manages to net a respectable 3 million visitors each year. As about 85% of the park comprises roadless wilderness, however, most of those visitors will never encounter its vast backcountry. Nor will they come to truly comprehend the “untamed” nature of the park, said Catherine Gudis, an associate professor of history and the director of UCR’s public history program.

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