Critic / Photography / Travel

Visiting Joshua Tree… again

It was my first real opportunity for landscape photography with the X-Pro1. I already shared some infrared shots from my recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  It was my second time there; the first was in the spring of 2012 shortly after I bought my 5D Mark III – also the site of my first landscape shoot with that camera.

Once again, going to Joshua Tree was an opportunity for some well-needed alone time. It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was in Los Angeles to see my family. After driving for about three hours, I finally made it to the park on Friday afternoon, knowing I would have to leave less than 24 hours later. So I didn’t have much time… and to make matters worse, it started raining as soon as I got past the gate.

I kept driving until I found a good place to stop and shoot. After I found what might have been an ideal spot, I decided to keep driving until the rain stopped (not a very good idea in hindsight). Eventually the rain did stop though, so I pulled over somewhere. As soon as I had fired off a few shots, the rain started coming down again.

Cloudy Arrival

It drizzled for a while before letting up and allowing me to shoot some more. I  hiked off the road a little bit in search of a nice shot. Having foolishly forgotten my headlamp, I was clumsily relying on my smartphones for light; so by the time the sun went down, I was back by the car. I did OK under the circumstances, but things could have been better.

Blurry Gold

The golden hour seemed to last for a long time though, and I was able to get to get several different types of images in that time. Every now and then a car would drive by and mess up my shot… although sometimes the light they provided resulted in some cool effects. Their headlamps also gave me ideas. For example, I lit the tree in the shot below with the light from my Samsung Galaxy S4.

Golden Joshua

Even after there was no visible light to speak of, I still managed to get a few cool shots. The one below is one of my favorites, and shows me what this camera and lens are capable of. The RAW file looked OK coming out, but with a little work in Lightroom, it turned into what I think is a really nice picture.

Joshua at Night

Although the starry nights are one of the nicest things about being in a place like Joshua Tree, once it got dark, I got in my car and drove off to find a hotel. I had been planning on going south to Cottonwood Springs, but wisely decided to go up north to Twentynine Palms instead.

I ate a great meal at some Middle-Eastern restaurant and then found one of the last hotel rooms in town. I went to bed relatively early and woke up very early the next morning… about 4:30am to be exact.

I drove out into the park, knowing that I wanted to be near some trees with a good vantage point of the rising sun. In hindsight, I should have driven another mile up the road, but I guess everything happens for a reason.

Sunrise at Joshua

I managed to get a few decent shots that took in the moon, which was looking particularly nice that morning. Nothing with the stars on the other side of the sky though, which made me realize I wanted to go wider than the 35mm equivalent I had been shooting with up until that point.

Shortly after I took the shot above, I decided it would be a good idea to run back to the car where I had left my backpack and 14mm lens. I ran fast, not wanting to miss crucial light. But when I made it to the car, I realized that the keys had fallen out of my pocket during my mindless sprint. I started to panic as I realized that I could lose hours of good light and possibly be stuck in the desert for a while.

I decided decided I could find the keys later so I started to go back to my camera which I had left on my Gitzo tripod. I walked slowly this time, and was lucky enough to find the keys on the way. I turned back to get my bag, which in hindsight I didn’t need. All my best shots were taken with the 23mm, which is still my new favorite lens.

Joshua Sunrise

I didn’t end up getting any real keepers with that 14mm. I think there was only one shot that I actually kept. After walking around for a while taking pictures in various places until the sun was all the way up, I started making my way back to the car. I was feeling spent after all that running and staying out in the sun for a hours on my feet.

As I was sitting in my car ‘recovering’ and peeling a tangerine, I saw someone come running up behind me waving his hands. Two minutes later and I would have been speeding off, but fate was on this guy’s side. We’ll call him Scott (I can’t remember his name for sure).

Scott told me that he had gotten lost overnight in the park. He wanted to know where he was so that he could get back to his car. Apparently he had left his friends at their campsite the previous afternoon for a short hike. He ended up spending the night alone in the wilderness.

After getting directions, he set back out on the road to walk to his car. He never asked me for a ride.

Joshua Day

Once I finished eating my tangerine and drinking some water, I turned the ignition on and got back on the road myself. Sure enough, after a few minutes, I saw Scott walking along the side of the pavement. I pulled over and offered him a ride which he gladly accepted. He asked me where I had been camped out, and I responded in shame.

Desert Wood

Once I dropped Scott back off at his car (he would have had to walk for nearly another hour), I searched for a scene I had found through a National Geographic app. I found it and killed it (I’ve already posted some infrared versions, and a color version on my Flickr page).

Satisfied, I made my way south towards Cottonwood Springs, and along the way, I had to stop at the Jumping Cholla Cactus Patch. I walked back and forth to the car a few times to get my tripod and switch gear… I guess I didn’t learn my lesson from earlier that morning!

Cactus Patch

The cactus patch ended up being one of my last stops. The road to Cottonwood Springs was closed. Maybe I could have found a way there, but I was already running late, so I kept it moving.


It was a short trip, but well worth it. I’ll definitely be back to southern California, and I’ll surely find my way back to Joshua Tree National Park sometime. On my third visit, I hope to bring both my camera kits with me… and spend the night in the park. Who knows? I might even get some cool shots of the stars.

Sometimes I wish I lived in California so I could take these sorts of trips all the time. Looking on the bright side – it’s nice having a pied-à-terre in Los Angeles. It’s also nice living in Miami. Bring on the Everglades!

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7 thoughts on “Visiting Joshua Tree… again

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