Joshua Tree, Threatened by Pollution and Growth, Hosts Rally

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
September 16, 2005

A music program held in California's Joshua Tree National Park this weekend aims to literally drum up environmental support for one of the most endangered national parks in the United States.

Organizers hope that hundreds of people will gather for Celestial Rhythms, a two-day event that will feature nature hikes and star-gazing through high-powered telescopes.

The main event, to be held in a natural outdoor rock amphitheater, is an evening of musical performances that will include a drum circle involving the audience.

Jarrod Radnich, the 23-year-old founder of the Desert Music Foundation, which is organizing the event, hopes the gathering will spotlight the desert's wonders and help build awareness of the environmental threats facing the park.

"People don't realize how ancient and fragile this desert environment is," he said. "A scraggly tree may be hundreds of years old, as old as the redwoods."

Land of Dr. Seuss

Established as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936 and elevated to national park status in 1994, Joshua Tree National Park is part of both the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

The nearly 800,000-acre (323,700-hectare) park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep and threatened desert tortoises, as well as more than 700 plant species.

But it is best known for its clumps of enormous granite boulders, which make the park one of the premier rock-climbing destinations in the world. It's also renowned, and named, for the eerie Joshua trees whose branches extend grotesquely like upraised arms.

"It's otherworldly, almost Dr. Seuss-ish," said Radnich, a musician and environmentalist who grew up next to the park.

As with many other desert communities in California, the small towns surrounding the park have seen an influx in recent years of people seeking refuge from city life. New housing and business developments, locals complain, have led to an increase in light and noise pollution.

According to one controversial proposal, an area bordering the park could be turned into the largest landfill in the contiguous United States, receiving up to 20,000 tons (18,000 metric tons) of garbage daily. Environmentalists warn that it could disturb the habitat of the endangered desert tortoises.

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