PHOTOS: Climbers clean up Joshua Tree National Park

Climbers and locals came together to give the national park a makeover in the inaugural Joshua Tree Facelift event.

Climbers volunteering in the Joshua Tree Facelift on Oct 22 pose in front of graffiti before they cleaned it off the rock.

Eighty climbers and locals from the Yosemite Climbing Association, Friends of Joshua Tree and Cliffhanger Guides organized the first Joshua Tree Facelift to clean up the park on October 22.

“Volunteers hold life together here in Joshua Tree. We have our volunteer climbing stewards that respond to climbing emergencies 24/7,” said David Smith, the superintendent for the National Park Service in Joshua Tree National Park. “We could not have cleaned up this place without volunteers organizing and coming to this event.”

In 2021, Joshua Tree National Park broke its historical visitation record with 3.1 million visitors in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Smith, the number of visitors has increased by 130% in the past 10 years while the number of climbers has doubled. This has led to an increase in trash and graffiti, he said.

A plastic bottle lies in the dirt at Joshua Tree National Park. Microtrash, small pieces of trash such as this bottle, are harmful to small animals in the ecosystem. (Photo by Michael Chow)

“The park was built for solitude and not necessarily for three million visitors,” said Bernadette Regan, a climbing ranger for the National Park Service. “One of the biggest problems is the massive increase in vehicular traffic. When people cannot find parking or get frustrated with the one-lane road, they sometimes go off-road and damage a lot of plants and animal habitats.”

In response to the increase in human footprint, the Yosemite Climbing Association brought their signature Facelift event to Joshua Tree National Park, inviting volunteers for a day of stewardship through picking up trash and removing graffiti from rocks.

Organizers from the Friends of Joshua Tree, National Parks Service and Yosemite Climbing Association gathered at the Mojave Desert Land Trust at 7 a.m. on Oct 22. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Sabra Purdy, the owner of Cliffhanger Guides, a climbing guide service at Joshua Tree National Park, directs volunteers to their respective teams. 80 volunteers were spread across Hidden Valley, Yucca Valley and 29 Palms to clean up trash and graffiti. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Alex Renteria, an archaeologist from the National Park Service, showcased artifacts such as obsidian tribal spearheads and a miner’s matchbox. He shares why not all trash should be picked up. “Certain objects that look aged should be left in their place and be handled by the service. This way, archaeologists can learn about the park’s geohistorical background,” he explains. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Rina, a volunteer from the Pure Project, picks up burlap sacks, safety vests and tools for picking up the trash. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Fort Diaz, a local volunteer who lives 3 miles outside of the national park, picks up an empty bottle. He shares that he comes to Joshua Tree and the national park every two weeks to pick up trash to keep his community clean. “It’s like keeping your own home clean. This trash affects the local community so I see it as my responsibility to clean it up,” Diaz said. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Nolan Graham, a volunteer climbing steward with Friends of Joshua Tree, puts on protective gear as he prepares to clean the graffiti. (Photo by Michael Chow)
John-Thomas “JT” Faust, a volunteer climbing steward with Friends of Joshua Tree, applies “Elephant Snot,” a caustic chemical designed to remove paint, onto the graffiti. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Kaley Mudd, a climber from San Diego and volunteer with Joshua Tree Facelift, scrapes at glitter glue stuck to the wall after the “Elephant Snot” failed to get it off. “I was going to climb at Joshua Tree National Park and thought Facelift was a good way to give back to the space I use,” Mudd said. (Photo by Michael Chow)
David Fosman, a climber from San Diego and a volunteer at Joshua Tree Facelift, shows off the patch of glitter glue successfully peeled off by Kaley Mudd. (Photo by Michael Chow)
After 3 hours of cleaning, the rock face appears largely clean save for a few specks of paint. (Photo by Michael Chow)
Karl Miraz, a Park Ranger in Joshua Tree National Park, loads a bag of trash onto a pickup truck. Volunteers picked up 3,500 pounds of trash during the event. (Photo by Michael Chow)

The National Park Service and the other event organizers said they hope the Joshua Tree Facelift will be an annual event moving forward.