16 Years Later

The Joshua Tree and Me – The Sawtooth Complex Fire and Much More

It was the early Summer of 2006 and we were headed back from a wedding in Mexico. As we approached San Diego we could see smoke in the distance and wondered where the fire was located. As we got closer and closer to our town, “Yucca Valley” we still had no idea the fire was so close to our home, less than one mile from our front door.

As an Eagle song once said: “Let the fires burn, and let the floods return, we will prevail” so let’s focus on “Fires Burning” then we will move on to “Life Prevails” as the lyrics say and other subjects of my interest.

The Fire had Burned – I was devastated by the destruction, but having lived in Yucca Valley a long time I remembered many other fires, though I had a hard time recalling the regrowth. So this time I started paying more attention. After all, I’ve lived here since I was 15 years old in 1976 and I now have the training to observe the environment. I have been here 47 years, and my Bachelors and Masters Degrees, as well as teaching others at High School and College levels for 35 years, have helped my research skills. My time on the Yucca Valley Planning Commission and Town Council have helped me see this issue clearly as well. What could be better than growing up surrounded by Joshua Trees observing the environment around me daily and living it. I see so many writings from those that do not have nearly the time needed for long term observations, so here are my personal observations and experiences over the years. But first, here are a few previous blogs I wrote regarding the range of “Joshua Trees” and the other is about “Pioneertown” which was hit badly by this fire: https://www.desertusa.com/dusablog/the-other-blooms-of-the-mojave-desert-dont-be-a-sloth-visit-soon/ AND https://www.desertusa.com/dusablog/92268/

We will investigate three things:

  • The Devastation
  • How Life Prevails
  • Images of Growth Rate


The fire burned 61,700 acres and destroyed 50 homes, 8 mobile homes, 13 garages, 171 outbuildings, 191 cars and pick up trucks, 3 R.V.s, 27 trailers, 2 railcars, 9 tractors. 12 residences were damaged. There were 17 minor injuries and 1 civilian fatality according to Wikipedia. Check out the images below to see how big this fire was, much of the area being in a Joshua Tree Forest.

The Fire Extent

As you can see in the pictures above (click on any picture to see it full-size) fires involving Joshua Trees are heartbreaking, there’s so much destruction, the wildlife must flee the fire and there’s an increased flood risk afterwards. A few months after the fire, a bear cub was found in a Joshua Tree near my home, over 3 miles from its natural range; it was relocated successfully.


My Mojave Desert expeditions have shown me alot. Four of these pictures are near Pioneertown but the larger last picture is in my yard next to my California Poppies. I believe it is a natural Joshua Tree that grew from seed and I have seven more on my 2.5 acre property at 3600 feet elevation. Bunnies are eating some, I wrapped others with wire to protect them. You can see other Pups from the base of the Joshua Trees after the fire, the ones that grow from the base we locals call “Pups” and I see those often and have some on my property. The seedlings I see around as I drive vary in size, these small trees are not associated to any other tree.

As you can see in the pictures above there is regrowth or new growth. I hope the Pups and Seedlings prevail – around me I see recovery more often than not. I imagined there would not be much growth but I was surprised how vigorous Joshua Trees are in the Yucca Valley and surrounding Mojave Desert area, many homes are surrounded by them.

Growth Rate?:

The Big Question is how fast do they grow? Growth varies, I see some adult Joshua Trees dead in 50 years and others alive after 50 years, some are slow growers that are nearly the same size and healthy as they were decades ago and other seem to have a healthy consistent growth rate. Of course it matters on the soil, roads, drainage and other factors.

Below you will find Before and After images so you might calculate growth rate, I have been alive long enough to have pictures from when I was 15 years old in 1976, right now I am 62 years old.

The above picture is of the largest Joshua Tree I have ever encountered, today it is looking even more scraggly but it is obviously dying from old age. The picture is from two different angles but it is the same tree, look how huge it is and the circumference of the trunk. Given that this Joshua Tree is three times or more the average size how old do you think it is?

The above picture is a meme I made as a joke to show how big a Joshua Tree can be yet others can be small but look mighty.

In the above picture I find this comparison interesting. These two photos are 70 years apart. The Joshua Tree on the left next to Highway 62 is bigger than it was. It has “matured”, but the one on the right has grown much more even with all the pavement around it. That pavement has been there for about 40 years.

As you can see in the photos above – the old picture was in 1976 and Joshua Tree #1 was curved but straightened out as it grew taller. Joshua Tree #2 totally curved to the ground today but it has many “Pups” growing from its base and seems healthy.

This is a picture of me and my 1st car in about 1977. I was on my way to work as a volunteer at Joshua Tree National Monument. This is from a very slightly different angle; I have trees in the way now so I can not get the exact shot but you can see the Joshua Tree #1 has died for the most part. Joshua Tree #2 the top toppled over but it is still alive. This is near an unpaved road with much off-road traffic over the years.

As you can see in the photo above I went to the exact spot at Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley of a photo taken in 1951. There were lots of changes in 2015 but does anyone see any of the same Joshua Trees? I think I see a comparison but I am not sure, I will leave it up to you. Here is my Blog about this Park from a few years back 🙂 /https://www.desertusa.com/dusablog/little-park-saved-world-atomic-war-desert-christ-park/

These two Joshua Trees look like they grew and struggled and it looks like they recovered somewhat in the last 45 years.

In my opinion researchers that study Joshua Trees for 2, 3 or 4 years do not get the long term observations that locals see. Some researchers draw conclusions from a 5 year trend that will correct itself with a few rainy winters. The difference between climate and weather is a thin line. Joshua Trees do not grow or sprout consistently year after year they grow in fits and spurts. Droughts reduce them, then rainy seasons allow them to take root which allows them to take hold. There might be a 5 or 10 year gap between rainy seasons but, just as this year, we have many seedlings growing from seed and “Pups” sprouting from the base of the parent tree after a year of much rain. Yet some predict the extinction of the Joshua Tree by the year 2100.

Nothing stays the same, as I said earlier in this Blog. Read my older Blog about the 10,000 or 20,000 year old history of the Joshua Tree. Their range is shifting, as time goes on how much will it shift or disappear? I am not sure but once again here is my Blog about the ancient history of Joshua Trees: https://www.desertusa.com/dusablog/the-other-blooms-of-the-mojave-desert-dont-be-a-sloth-visit-soon/

In closing I would like to say I have seen many Joshua Trees die yet I see much hope. I have outlived some but others I befriended as a teenager will outlive me. I hope they remember me as fondly as I do them. Life goes on but I am proud to have been their friend, The Joshua Tree and Me 🙂

Take It Easy – Mojave

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