There’s a reason Joshua Tree National Park captivated U2. The desert expanse is emblematic of the vast American West, the open road, the convergence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Visitors travel from around the globe to see the famous Joshua trees and to revel in the big sky vibe of the place.
The park has remained open to visitors during the government shutdown that began on Dec. 21. There is a skeleton crew of law enforcement rangers operating in the park, but on two recent trips into the park, this reporter saw almost no park employees – just visitors camping, rock climbing and driving around without the National Park Service maps they would typically get at the visitor center.
John Lauretig is executive director of Friends of Joshua Tree, a local advocacy group for climbers and stewards of the park. He worked as a ranger with the National Park Service for over ten years, five of them in Joshua Tree National Park. Friends of Joshua Tree rallied to help clean the park’s toilets and pick up trash in the early days of the shutdown. During the holiday period, Lauretig said there were around 200,000 visitors to the park and that the overwhelming majority of them behaved.
But, recent tweets of downed Joshua Trees have caused outrage on social media, with people accusing off-roaders of making their own paths and vandals of cutting down the iconic trees. “I shake my head every time I think about it,” Lauretig told The California Report host John Sepulvado.
Lauretig came across some people trying to move a downed Joshua tree in the park recently. He thinks they were trying to take a photograph with it. He pulled over and explained to them that snakes and scorpions like to live in the base of the trees and that they should be careful.