Mojave National Preserve


Evidence of the people who have lived and made a living from the desert and its resources is scattered across the region. The earliest record is of people associated with the large glacial lakes that once covered the California desert. This cultural tradition dominated from 10,000 to 7,000 years ago. As the climate dried, people were forced to migrate more frequently to find a diverse supply of food sources. Around 4,000 years before present (BP), the grinding of seeds and seed storage dominated survival strategies. This adaptation, which created food surpluses, resulted in population growth for the region.

Around 1,500 BP several other major technological innovations were introduced to the region, including the bow and arrow, and ceramic pottery. Then about 700 BP Paiute-Shoshone groups moved into the area and forced the Mojaves to the Colorado River. The Paiute dominated the desert until the advent of the European exploration. Petroglyphs and pictographs, etched and drawn on the rocks throughout the region, are evidence of a long history of the peoples who followed the natural cycles of plants and animals, gathering and hunting.

The earliest account of historic exploration was a Spanish expedition led by Francisco Garces and Juan Bautista Anza (for whom Anza Borrego Desert State Park is named). Looking to establish an overland route from the Spanish settlements in New Mexico and the California coast, the Garces and Anza expedition crossed the Mojave in 1775 and 1776 following the Mojave Trail, an Indian path that traveled from water hole to water hole. The trail crossed Piute Creek, and followed the edge of the New York and Providence Mountains and the Kelso Dunes. The first American to enter the region was Jedediah Smith (for whom Jedediah Smith Redwoods and the Smith River in northern California are named), a mountain man of some fame who crossed the Mojave in 1826 and 1827 during an exploratory trapping expedition. Other expeditions followed. In 1857 Edward Beale established a wagon route across the Mojave, and soon Prescott, Arizona, and San Bernardino were linked with regular mail and freight service.

By the 1860s mineral exploration was in full swing. Prospectors were fanning out across the desert looking for veins of gold and silver. Within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, mining camps were established at Ivanpah, Hart in the Castle Mountains, and Providence along the slopes of the Providence Mountains. By the 1920s falling gold prices and played out mines led to the abandonment of most of these camps and towns.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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