|We spent the day exploring Joshua Tree National Park, which, in terms of vegetation and geology, is a very interesting place. As usual, the Visitors' Center was our first stop. The center is at a much lower elevation than the rest of the park and is situated in what is called the Oasis of Mara. The name (meaning "little springs and much grass") comes from the Serrano peoples, who were the first inhabitants. A thousand years ago, this land was filled with many underground springs and extensive grasslands. The Indians also liked the area because of its large stands of Honey Mesquite and Fan Palm trees. Unfortunately, the Indians were eventually driven out by white settlers, who grazed cattle and mined for gold in the area. Due to overuse, the Oasis shrunk in size, such that now there is only one existing underground spring and far fewer trees. The park, itself, is interesting and beautiful in two ways. First, the trees are very unusual in their shapes and needles. Mormons (who settled in this area) gave them their name, for they thought the outstretched limbs of the trees looked like the biblical figure, Joshua, welcoming and guiding Christians westward. Biologists have finally decided that the Joshua Tree is a type of Yucca. Characterized by their twisted and spiky limbs, they look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Although Joshua Trees do not have tradition tree-rings, it is estimated that they can live in excess of 100+ years. The second thing that we found interesting and beautiful in the park is the rock formations. Originally of a volcanic base, the rock cliffs and boulders are everywhere and quite spectacular. They continue to evolve, as ground water percolates down transforming hard minerals into clay, eventually resulting in new formations. Amazing to see! And then there is the Keys View area of the park, which is just above the San Andreas Fault. Keys View has been found to move two inches to the right each year, as the other side of the Fault moves to the left. Yikes! No earthquakes while we were here. Don't miss Joshua Tree National Park if you are in L.A. in the future. It's a special place.