The political satirist and novelist reflects on the landscape and history of California's Joshua Tree.

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) at sunrise in Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

The national park that has knocked me over again and again is Joshua Tree, on the southern edge of the Mojave Desert, near the wonderfully named Twentynine Palms, California.

It’s a landscape like no other: huge, rounded boulders and the eponymous Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), so named by early Mormon settlers who decided that their angular shapes resembled the biblical Joshua with his arms upraised to heaven. (Whatever.) My more prosaic take is that the huge boulders remind me of a Flintstones landscape. You expect pterodactyls to swoop out of the sky at any moment and snatch you out of your convertible.

I always time my visits there to end with a visit to Keys View, where the sunsets are the most dramatic this planet has to offer. Bill Keys was a local who killed a man in self-defense, but who was sent to San Quentin and served five years there before his case was taken up by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Readers of a certain age (i.e., mine) will remember Gardner as the author of the Perry Mason novels. This intercession won Keys a pardon. It’s nice to think that Mr. Keys spent his remaining years watching amazing sunsets from a promontory named after him.

For more stories celebrating the centennial of the national parks, head here. »