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Challenge of the Big Trees

The Updated History of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
William C. Tweed and Lary M. Dilsaver

BUY Paper · 376 pp. · 7 × 9 · ISBN 9781938086472 · $38.50 · Feb 2017

Beginning in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone, national parks were set aside to preserve for future generations the most spectacular and inspirational features of the country. The best representative examples were sought out of major ecosystems, such as Yosemite, geologic forms, such as the Grand Canyon, archaeological sites, such as Mesa Verde, and scenes of human events, such as Gettysburg. But one type of habitat—the desert—was overlooked until travel writers and the Automobile Age began to change Americans’ perceptions about desert landscapes.

As the National Park Service began to explore the better-known Mojave and Colorado Deserts of southern California during the 1920s for a possible desert park, many agency leaders still held the same negative image of arid lands shared by many Americans—that they are hostile environments and largely useless. But one wealthy woman—Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, from Pasadena—came forward, believing in the value of the desert, and convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish a national monument that would protect the unique and iconic Joshua trees and other desert flora and fauna. Thus was Joshua Tree National Monument officially established in 1936, and when the area later was expanded in 1994, it became Joshua Tree National Park.

Since 1936 the National Park Service and a growing cadre of environmentalists and recreationalists have fought to block ongoing proposals from miners, ranchers, private landowners, and real estate developers who historically have refused to accept the idea that desert might be suitable for anything other than their consumptive activities. Joshua Tree National Park, even with its often-conflicting land uses, is more popular today than ever, serving more than one million visitors per year who find the desert to be a place worthy of respect and preservation.

Distributed for George Thompson Publishing


As I look back over my nearly forty years of national park experiences, I can reflect both on our accomplishments of the past and our challenges into the future. We need periodic reminders, like this fine book, of how far we have come, most often the result of dedicated citizens and professionals. We also need inspiration and optimism that we will succeed in caring for these special places. Within these pages I invite you to wander but, more importantly, to spend time with the Big Trees, for they have seen many challenges, and yet they still stand.

Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director, National Park Service

Big Trees and the Giant Forest, Kings Canyon and Mineral King, Mt. Whitney and Mt. Brewer, Muir Pass and the Kaweah Basin— una gran Sierra Nevada—could features within two national parks possibly bear a more superlative and emphatic body of names? Looming above California's southern San Joaquin Valley and annually hosting more than 1,500,000 visitors, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks preserve precious natural and cultural resources, from groves of giant sequoia and historic CCC camps to grizzly bear ghosts and the utopian Kaweah Colony. Contested landscapes for more than 125 years, the spectacular sites in these twin parks are very much under siege, ever so capably documented in this book’s historical photographs, clean maps, and fine prose.

Paul F. Starrs, Professor of Geography, University of Nevada, Reno, and author of Let the Cowboy Ride: Cattle Ranching in the American West and, with photographs by Peter Goin, Black Rock

A fascinating and highly readable history of Joshua Tree National Park in California's southern deserts.... Challenge of the Big Trees and Preserving the Desert, are beautifully bound and presented tomes. With their high quality photographs and informative maps, these impeccably researched histories signify a major advance in our understanding of national park and conservation history that are also an absolute pleasure to read and to own.

Journal of Historical Geography

About the Author(s): 

William C. Tweed is the author of Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks and has served as Chief Park Naturalist in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Lary M. Dilsaver, Professor Emeritus of Historical Geography at the University of South Alabama, is the author of Cumberland Island National Seashore: A History of Conservation Conflict (Virginia).

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