Joshua Tree National Park - high desert invites a different kind of exploration and photography


With some time off for the New Year - 2016, I finally got to visit one of the places in the Southwest that has been on my list for some time - Joshua Tree National Park. The park is located southeast of Los Angeles, out on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Driving time from LA is about three and a half hours. Google said we drove 168 miles to get to the town of Joshua Tree on the west side of the park.


This is a high-desert landscapes where strange rock piles and unique vegetation create an other-worldly mood. If you're there when it's calm, as we were, it is totally silent, which add to the strangeness of the environment. Most of the rock formations are truly bizarre, huge boulders stacked and pitched at all angles - some are sandblast carved by wind and rain to emulate identifiable forms. If we ever go back to the stone age this it the place to be. And of course the namesake plant of the area, the Joshua Tree, adds to the alien look of the landscape.

The Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family. It is an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. Joshua trees tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance. Mormon settlers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, assuming the plant's outstretched arms were guiding them westward. Homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals and as a source of fuel. Researchers think an average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years, but some of the largest trees may be much older than that. Though most are smaller, they can reach fifty to sixty feet in height.

At first glance, you can assume there is no wildlife out here, but that's an illusion. Just a short way from our first parking spot, I saw about a dozen small birds flitting around on the ground under some sagebrush. They turned out to be a mixed group of sparrows which included Black-throated and Brewer's and well as the more common White-crowned. I photographed scrub jays, hawks, and ravens on my short hikes. I also got a good photos of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker, which was a new bird for me.

I only had time for two partial days in the Park; I will certainly go back if the opportunity is available. For photographers, it's a great place to learn about capturing light and color under varying conditions. The light can change dramatically throughout the day as clouds play with the sunlight. Late afternoon and twilight are the best times to capture the drama of this unique landscape.

It's also a great locale to capture image which lend themselves to dramatic black and white prints. This is a new endeavor for me as I am usually concentrating on a colorful bird. I've included examples of some black and white prints in this collections.
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