Joshua Trees & Desert Sands, southeastern California, postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
The “JOSHUAS” or “PRAYING TREES” are found throughout the desert sections of the Southwest. The coarse fibrous limbs growing in unusual grotesque shapes bear branches of dagger-like leaves.
When we visited the Trumpeter Swans in Monticello a few weeks ago, we ended up going for pie and coffee at Cornerstone Cafe. But not before we checked out the local thrift shop and a new antique store that opened just around the corner. Liz and I were drawn to a table of vintage postcards, much like the postcard from Atlanta that my Uncle Jack sent to Mom in 1952.
Vintage linen postcards were printed from 1930 to 1945 by Curt Teich & Co. of Chicago; they closed their doors in 1978. In my research, I found that the company used a color printing technique called C.T. Art-Colortone. The thick paper was embossed to give the card a linen texture, and the inks were printed on a lithography press using color separation. Linen postcards often portrayed landmarks, landscapes, and roadside attractions, but fell out of fashion in the late 1940′s when polychrome printing was invented.
I thought it would be fun to post a few over the course of the year. My favorites in Monticello were a series of postcards that had been hand addressed and mailed from somewhere across the USA, back to the small town of Dover, Minnesota. In January of 1947, Ione made it clear that she sprang from the swampy Land of 10,000 Lakes, and found it hard to love the dry beauty of the California desert:
Joshua Trees & Desert Sands – Jan 25 1947, southeastern California, postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
We are just a few miles from Riverside. May call Ralph Keyes. Guess we are through the desert at last. Will finish the last 100 miles tomorrow. We went thru Tuscon this A.M. I called Margaret. She was so surprised to hear me. We covered miles and miles of desert and cactus. Margaret says the desert will soon start to bloom then it is beautiful. We went through El Centro where Eva Ferrier and Don used to live. Don’t blame them for leaving here. I haven’t been travel sick yet so guess I’ll be alright.
The desert has a beauty all its own. Though I have not spent time in the California desert, I find peace and solace in the high desert country around Taos, New Mexico. I read that Mormon settlers named the Joshua tree when they traveled west toward their promised land. The shape of the tree’s outstretched branches reminded them of the Biblical story in which the prophet Joshua reaches his hands toward the sky. Joshua Tree National Park gives the tree another important place in American history: Franklin Roosevelt dedicated Joshua Tree National Park in 1936 (only 11 years before this postcard was written) to assure that California’s rapid urban sprawl wouldn’t threaten the unique desert ecosystem in which the trees thrive.
During the Ice Age, Joshua trees grew strong across the American Southwest. According to an NPR article, in the 1930s scientists explored Gypsum Cave outside of Las Vegas where they found parts of skeletons, hides, and hair from the giant ground sloth — an animal that had been extinct for 13,000 years. In layers of the sloth’s dung, there was evidence that Joshua trees were a favorite food of the sloth, including leaves, seeds, and fruits. When the desert turns dry as a bone, the only way animals like the antelope ground squirrel, desert wood rat, and blacktail jack rabbit find moisture is by gnawing through the bark of live trees. The Joshua tree is one of the “great canteens of the desert.” What would we do without ancient trees?
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