Terra Galleria Photography

From a Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

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The most visited spot in Joshua Tree National Park lies somewhere near the meeting of Park Boulevard, the Hidden Valley picnic area, and the Barker Dam road. When I parked my car a hundred yard east of the intersection, nobody was around, because the time was one hour before sunrise. I walked in the dark towards the large rock formation nearest to the south east corner of the intersection, and circled around it, looking for a path of least resistance. My first two attempts at climbing the rock led to ledges from which a steep and featureless wall blocked progress. I eventually found a route to the top. Although I stood at essentially the same spot – the top was just a few yards wide, the position and changing light allowed me to make the diverse set of photographs in this post.

That area is rightfully popular, as it is the scenic heart of the park, where dense Joshua Tree forests mix with piles of rocks. At a ground-level perspective, it is difficult to capture the density of the Joshua Trees. To do so, you’d want to use a telephoto lens to compress the perspective and bring many of them closer to each other. Because the valley’s floor is flat, from the ground, the nearby plants hide those situated faraway. This is why I climbed the rock. A relatively small change in elevation yielded a totally different perspective. Several roads were visible from the rock, but since I photographed mostly with a telephoto lens, they were easy to exclude.

This trip, the last one I took before hunkering down to finish my upcoming National Parks book, reminded me of what attracted me to California. Within a few hours driving, I also dived in the giant kelp forest and hiked in the giant sequoia forest high on the mountains. Joshua Tree was one of the first national park I visited, in early 1994. I had stayed at the Hidden Valley Campground, which was visible from the rock I was standing. This campground is particularly popular with rock climbers, because of all the rock formations that surround it. Although I had started to photograph the parks (this large format photograph is from that first Joshua Tree visit), what brought me to the park was rock climbing. As I was wrapping up my 20-year project to photograph the National Parks, I remembered the views over the valley from the rock tops, so this trip was closing a circle.

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