Joshua Tree National Park Peak Named In Honor Of Minerva Hoyt

A peak in Joshua Tree National Park has been formally named in honor of Minerava Hoyt, who played a key role in seeing the park created. Top photo NPS, bottom photo of a mural featuring Mrs. Hoyt by Kurt Repanshek.

A mountain in Joshua Tree National Park has been officially named after Minerava Hoyt in honor of her efforts to see the park designated.

Mrs. Hoyt grew up in Mississippi during the Civil War Reconstruction Era but moved to Southern California after marrying, and there she fell in love with the desert. It was during trips into the desert to collect plants for her gardens that she not only came to appreciate the desert vegetation, but saw the careless destruction of the land by those who viewed the Joshua trees and other cacti as worthless.

Not only did Mrs. Hoyt stage exhibitions of desert vegetation in places such as Boston, New York, and London in the late 1920s, but she founded the International Deserts Conservation League with the intention of preserving desertscapes. The attention she garnered through these efforts led Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., the noted landscape architect, to appoint her to a commission to recommend new state parks for California.

It was Mrs. Hoyt's belief that the National Park Service was best suited to preserve large swaths of desert that spurred her campaign to have the Joshua Tree area set aside as part of the National Park System. Her work led to her introduction to President Franklin Roosevelt and a friendship with his secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.

When the Park Service proposed to recommend a 138,000-acre park, Mrs. Hoyt, who wanted one in the range of 1 million acres, complained to Secretary Ickes and succeeded in having Interior officials propose a larger area for protection.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names took all this into consideration when it recently voted to adopt the name of Mount Minerva Hoyt for a peak within Joshua Tree National Park. The previously unnamed 5,405-foot mountain is located in the west-central portion of Joshua Tree. It's not far from the park’s highest summit, Quail Mountain. The action by the Board of Geographic Names came at a meeting in late August. The decision by BGN acknowledges the central role that Minerva Hamilton Hoyt (1866-1945) played during her 1930s campaign to bring the Joshua Tree area into the National Park System.

The Board of Geographic Names is a federal body created in 1890 operating under the U.S. Geological Survey. The BGN maintains a uniform list of official geographic place names on federal lands within the United States and its territories. The BGN also establishes policies, principles, and procedures governing naming of geographic features that include domestic names, foreign names, Antarctic names, and names of undersea features.

The BGN had received one earlier proposal in 1979 from Robert and Maureen Cates to name a peak in the park for Mrs. Hoyt, but naming proposals to honor Minerva Hoyt have run up against a general Board policy against commemorative naming of natural features in wilderness. With nearly 80 percent of the park’s land classified as wilderness, proponents have found it difficult identifying a suitable landmark outside of wilderness boundaries that would reflect the magnitude of Minerva Hoyt’s tireless efforts on behalf of what became Joshua Tree National Monument, created by Presidential Proclamation on August 10, 1936. The original national monument was re-named Joshua Tree National Park with passage of the Desert Protection Act on October 31, 1994.

The current proposal, submitted in 2004 by Joshua Tree resident and park employee Joe Zarki, was also tabled for a number of years as the mountain selected is situated within congressionally authorized wilderness. The Board’s naming policies provide for exceptions in cases where a significant public educational benefit is achieved by allowing the naming of a wilderness landmark for a specific person. With a strong supporting statement by current Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent Mark Butler and the endorsement of the agency’s Office of Policy, the BGN voted 8-3 in favor of the proposal to designate Mount Minerva Hoyt.

The park is planning a dedication ceremony for March 2013 to coincide with Mrs. Hoyt’s birthday. She was born in Holmes County, Mississippi on March 27, 1866.