Epic West Coast Road Trip, Part 4


Joshua Tree National Park

On my recent travels to Joshua Tree National Park I discovered not only about a wide variety of plants, animals, and strong winds, but also I learned more about myself. It was an adventure spending two nights and three days in the desert under the stars, in excessive heat, and having a little meltdown of my own.

My boyfriend Zeus, had been here before, he grew up on the West Coast. Heat, creatures that crawl in the desert, and dark, dark nights weren’t new to him. I, on the other hand, was terrified of meeting a scorpion or rattlesnake.

The dark night skies brought us there, in an effort to capture the milky way with our cameras. Two photographers traveling to one of the best places for star photography in the entire country. I thought that it was the most important stop on the road trip for making images.

Joshua Tree has elevations ranging from 900 feet to over 5,000 feet above sea level, the park is home to a diversity of biological communities found nowhere else in such proximity. Sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases are all found within its nearly 800,000 acres. Each feature makes its contribution to the natural tapestry of the southwest. (Source NPS)

The Rusty Outlaw” near Joshua Tree NP

During the planning stages in June and July, we had considered camping but couldn’t find any available sites. We found an RV on Airbnb located just outside Joshua Tree NP which served us well. We enjoyed the AC during the day and sat outside to enjoy the stars at night.

When we first arrived we stopped to walk around Pioneertown, which was established in 1946 when Dick Curtis shared his dream for a “Living Breathing Movie Set”. At one time the 32,ooo acres of land was a functioning 188o’s themed town. It served as a filming location, vacation destination and permanent residence for people working in the entertainment industry, ranchers and desert lovers alike. More than 5o films and serials were filmed in Pioneertown during the 194o’s and 195o’s. Now it has been designated by the State Department of Parks and Recreation as an Historical Resource.

Pioneertown, CA

After strolling through Mane Street, we headed back to the RV and we met my friend Sandy and her husband, who had planned to spend the night camping under the stars. After discovering that they had never been to Pioneertown, we rentured to pioneertown for dinner at Pappy & Harriet‘s, the local hometown favorite for rustic decor and was a facade used as a “cantina” set for numerous western films well into the 1950s. Now there’s live music and great food.

After dinner, we headed back to the RV site and sat up chatting over drinks while I fiddled with my camera, trying to figure out settings for night photos. I was enjoying the conversation much more than creating photographs.

Hiking in Joshua Tree

Hiking at Joshua Tree NP

Venturing out to the park for our official full day of exploring, we planned to hike a trail before noon. We headed out around 10 AM at which time it was a cool 95 degrees. We hiked a few trails, many of which are short, about a mile, and easy to do. Standing on a ridge above the valley, the massive amount of Joshua Trees captured my attention. By noon, when we hoped in the SUV to take in the AC, it was 104.

Known as the park namesake, the Joshua tree, is a member of the Agave family. Like the California fan palm, the Joshua tree is a monocot, in the subgroup of flowering plants that also includes grasses and orchids. The Joshua tree provides a good indicator that you are in the Mojave Desert, but you may also find it growing next to a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona or mixed with pines in the San Bernardino Mountains. (Source NPS)

Later that day, after a break from the heat, Zeus and I ventured out to capture the night sky inside the park. He wanted to go on dirt roads to the darkest part of the park. I would’ve been just fine staying on main roads, but understood why he wanted to get away from the road. Passing cars with headlights would ruin a long exposure photograph. As I held onto the hand bar above the window, we traveled onto the road less traveled. It was sunset when we reached the deepest, darkest part of the park.

Joshua Tree NP
“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”– Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

I didn’t enjoy this part of the adventure. The truth is I struggled with the dark, with the fact that we were in the middle of the desert, and it was pitch black. I had little patience for my camera settings and while waiting for an exposure looking around to see if any creatures were scurrying near my tripod. I wish I’d been able to focus on creating images, but I just let my frustration get the better of me, and after short, weak attempts to create photographs, I shuffled off to the car, pouting about the fact that I didn’t get a good shot, while Zeus sat in his chair laughing at my silly tantrum.

Looking back on this, what I learned is that sometimes I need to just take a breath, and find a little bit of patience for the process. Technology isn’t my strong suit, but that doesn’t mean I needed to react the way I did, and I regret that. It did help me gain more understanding about the way I deal with challenges, and how I can learn from the experience.

Joshua Tree NP, Night Sky

After our night photography escrusion, we headed back to the RV for our last night in the desert. During the night I woke up several times thinking that I was experiencing an earthquake. The entire camper was shifting left and right, front and back. In the morning Zeus told me that it was just the wind. Maybe next time I’ll learn to enjoy the desert, having experiences way outside my comfort zone. I was thankful that I wasn’t taking this trip alone.

Here’s the link to Part 3 If you missed it

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