The Oasis of Mara was ablaze. On March 26, fire erupted in Joshua Tree National Park. As flames climbed palm trees and threatened the nearby visitor center, firefighters rushed in to save the surrounding area. Twenty mile per hour winds rushed through the city of Twentynine Palms. These winds aimed the fire straight for the Oasis Visitor Center. The fire burned 2.5 acres of Joshua Trees Park cornerstone, but the visitor center was left unscathed.
Park Superintendent David Smith recounted what it was like to have destruction so close to home.
“It was a little scary,” Smith said. “You know the amount of resources that we have here at headquarters, millions and millions of dollars of public property. I was really concerned because we had twenty mile per hour winds blowing straight into the complex and was just worrying about the infrastructure. That’s our park’s budget for four or five years if this all burned up.”
Smith went on to tell how special the oasis truly is:
“The oasis is the reason Twentynine Palms exists. The native people have been living in Twentynine Palms for ten thousand years. They live here because of that oasis. And because that someone could commit an act of arson, a crime, and could destroy a historical legacy that is meaningful to indigenous people and also the community as a whole. Its alarming that someone wouldn’t value that resource as much as we, the people who live here, and the park rangers, the folks who manage these parks and the American people. Its disconcerting.”
The oasis was first settled by the Native American Serrano tribe. Legend has it that they came to the oasis because a medicine man said they would have many boy babies there. In the first year twenty-nine children were born, so they planted a palm tree for each of them. The Oasis of Mara is a historic icon that led to the name Twentynine Palms for the surrounding city.
Smith was thankful that the county of San Bernardino was so quick to act to fight the fires. Smith explained that if it had not been for the firefighters the whole oasis, surrounding area, and building complexes would have burned to to the ground.
“One senseless act of violence and crime doesn’t equate well with we as a people and how we care about our lands,” Smith said. “We have set aside 400 chunks of lands and we call those national park sites because we give them the highest levels of protection. I know that people love their public lands. In these sites we have places that are sacred to native American and sacred to you and me. Places that we got to seek refuge, meet with our maker, or to meditate. We find beauty.”
Smith refuses to be jaded by a single act of violence thanks to the outpouring of support for the park. Much of this support is brought by young volunteers and fellow rangers who care for Joshua Tree as much as he does.
“I see wonderful things happening inside the park every day,” shared Smith. “To see young people, from wherever they are coming from, coming down to a national park and volunteering for a year is wonderful for me. To see junior rangers getting sworn in and pledging to protect their parks-that warms me. To see my paid rangers and staff out there going above and beyond to protect his resource and serve the American people. They work hours beyond what they should be working, they put themselves in harms way to save the resource and protect the people that are here. That commitment from these people that I am honored to work with. That makes it much more doable for me in times like this.”
Photos contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Halie West.