Mojave River Valley Museum
Joshua Tree National Park -
Oasis of Mara
In deserts the presence of water, that rarest of desert commodities, allows life to flourish and
for natural and human activity. The Oasis of Mara is a cornerstone of the
Joshua Tree National Park story.
The oasis was first settled by the
who called it Mara, meaning “the place of little springs
and much grass.” Legend holds they came to the oasis because a medicine man told them it was a good
place to live and that they would have many boy babies. The medicine man instructed them to plant a
palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm trees at the oasis. The
palms also provided the Serrano with food, clothing, cooking implements, and housing. In addition, the palms
for a wide variety of
from colorful orioles to the palm-boring beetle.
Early American survey parties arrived at the Oasis of Mara in the 1850s and found the area under cultivation
by the Serrano. Corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash were all grown with the life-giving waters that rise at
the oasis along the Pinto Mountain Fault. The
settled at the Oasis in 1867 and intermingled peacefully with the Serrano.
attracted to California by the discoveries at Sutter's Mill had drifted into the
desert looking for gold. The Anaconda Mine began operation south of the Oasis in 1874. The
and other claims soon followed. Trees began to be cut at the Oasis, and water
siphoned away to support the growing mining operations.
On the heels of the miners,
moved to the area in the 1880s to take advantage of the high
desert grasslands of the Pinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains. The McHaney brothers ran an
active cattle trade that was alleged to include stolen cattle that they pastured in isolated rocky
Bill McHaney became the first non-Indian to live at the Oasis in 1879. Later, Jack Rankin
and Billy Neaves built an adobe house at the east end of the Oasis. It stood for over 40 years
and served as a residence, a stage line stop, and a meeting place. The Barker and Shays Cattle
Company dug a 600-gallon well around 1900 for use by the growing population. A 1902 census found
37 Serrano and Chemehuevi living at the Oasis. As more non-Indians arrived, the Indian families
began to drift away, and by 1913, the Serrano and Chemehuevi were all gone.
Following World War I, the town of
saw an influx of veterans suffering from the
effects of gas inhalation, drawn to the area by its warm,
in 1936 of a vast stretch of the desert above town as Joshua Tree National Monument drew more
people to the area. The Twentynine Palms Corporation donated the Oasis of Mara to the National
Park Service in 1950 to use as its headquarters and primary visitor center.
Today, more than 140,000 people annually visit the Oasis Visitor Center where they receive
information about the park and learn about its natural and human history. Many visitors also
take the opportunity to walk the
Oasis of Mara nature trail.
Oasis of Mara
- Fan Palm Oases
In an otherwise hot and sparse environment, palm oases provide the luxury of shade and ...
- Riparian Habitat
Desert Riparian habitats are characterized as dense groves of low, ...