Joshua Tree: Call of the Desert


For the last few years I’ve flown out to visit my family in Southern California in the middle of January as a nice escape from the harsh winter in Minnesota. This year I made a plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park  for a quick 1 day excursion (One day down, drive back the next). My co-pilot for the trip was my father. We rented a car and took off for Joshua Tree once we found a couple free days.

I had grand visions of showing up middle of the afternoon the first day and shooting until sunset, sleep, and then wake up for sunrise and shoot till 11… then drive home. That pretty much happened except that it took a few hours longer to get there than I had expected (stupid maps always make it look closer than reality). We arrived right as sunset was happening (also sooner than I expected because of the mountains and elevation). The visitor center was closed, but we were able to obtain a park map and set off from the southern entrance towards the town of Twenty Nine Palms (Home of a Military Marine Base) on the northern side of the park.

I had my dad drive so I could keep my eyes out for places to stop. Very quickly I had us pulled off to capture the setting sun since things were changing so quickly with the light. It may not have been the best spot if I had had time to investigate more of the park, but I put on my photographers eye and made the best of what was in front of me. I panned the sky for panoramics, zoomed in on desert fauna, and tried to study the landscape quickly as the light went down. We moved on from that first spot once my shots became repetitive and set off for something on the map called  “Cholla Cactus Garden”. By the time we got there it was night, and all we could see was what the headlights illuminated. I had my dad turn off the lights, and I hoped out with my tripod and 580EXII flash unit. I was going to do some light painting.

I had NO idea what the cactus garden really looked like, I could only see a few feet ahead of myself but I set up my camera on a tripod, set the shutter to bulb, and I fired off the flash unit to illuminate what was around me. I of course blinded myself with the flashes, but what I saw on the back of the camera was exhilarating. The whole area was filled with beautiful cacti of various shapes, colors, and texture. I probably spent 30 minutes firing off different shots using my flash to paint the landscape. As long as I positioned the light right, I wouldn’t capture myself or the flash in the shot. Very fun!!!

We settled into a hotel for the night after a long days drive and a short 2 hours of shooting so that I could wake up for sunrise. I was NOT happy waking up that morning, but I forced myself to get moving since I spent so much energy getting there and wouldn’t be back anytime soon….. You can always sleep later.

It was refreshing to see the full variety of landscape now that there was plenty of light. Once again I fired off some panoramics and explored the textures of the desert around me. I was able to catch a few interesting sunrise photos, but mostly it was obscured by clouds that were breaking up. I decided we would make it to “Jumbo Rocks” campsite for the finishing minutes of sunrise. There I found the most beautiful rockscapes I have ever seen and made one of the most stunning panoramic shots that I have ever made. It’s a 1 to 5 ratio, so a 10 inch high print is 50inches long… MASSIVE The next few hours were spent roaming the various scenic spots and finding the perfect “Joshua Tree” photo and discovering lots of interesting desert compositions.

All in all, it was a fantastic quick trip. Well worth the lack of sleep and hours of driving.However, I really need to figure out a way of spending more time relaxing on my vacations… these mini super trips are really not long enough to soak in the full splendor of the places I go.

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