A Woman to Know: Minerva Hoyt

It always seems to be people named Minerva who lobby to save misunderstood plants. — Deanne Stillman

(image via The National Park Service)

They called her the "Apostle of the Cacti." As a newlywed in turn-of-the-century California, Minerva made a name for herself as a picture-perfect genteel woman, all full skirts and sweet smiles — but in the desert, which she visited as frequently as possible, she shed her high society trappings and studied the misunderstood vegetation. She defended the odd beauty of cacti and desert landscaping to anyone who would listen, even cultivating her own arid garden in the shadow of her California mansion. Once her husband and son passed away in the early 1900s, she dedicated her life to touring the country with desert plant exhibitions, advocating for sweeping protections that would save the land from new cars and highways threatening her beloved Southwest.

In the heyday of President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, she met with FDR to suggest a desert national park, the creation of which would both boost jobs (one of the President's main priorities) and shelter the still-thriving landscape (Minerva's life's work). In 1936, the two opened Joshua Tree National Monument, the first desert national park. Today, the highest point in the park is named for its protectress: Mount Minerva, looking over 800,000 acres of desert.

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