I know have told you this before – my day job involves a lot of travel. And whenever my work takes me to a new destination, I make sure to include a side trip to a nearby sanctuary or park so I can feed my soul.
Since the first leg of my trip to the US was Las Vegas, Nevada, I decided to look no further than neighbouring California as my destination. I usually prefer locations that allow me to shoot both wildlife and nature. Though the Joshua Tree National Park offers both, the coyote – a small fox-like mammal is a common sight, given my schedule, I decided to focus on the natural elements that Joshua has to offer.
Whenever I plan a shoot in new environs, I do my very best to latch on to a mentor, typically a local well versed with the territory and whose photography skills surpass mine. In Casey Kiernan, I found everything I was looking for and so much more.
So, about the Joshua Tree National Park – located in southeastern California, the park is made up of the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert with the Little San Bernardino Mountains running through the south-west edge of the park. The park is spread over 1200 square miles and gets its name from the Joshua Tree, its most prominent and visible plant species. The sky above with the desert-like terrain makes the park a photographer’s delight.
My rendezvous with Casey was scheduled for 2 pm at the Joshua Tree Saloon. You need your own wheels or a chauffeur to get to where I was going – which was literally the middle of nowhere. I had neither. But I am blessed with amazing friends whom I am always able to count on. Maia, my schoolmate and host in California, offered to drive me down. As we left civilisation, I couldn’t help but hum Will Smith’s Wild Wild West. I was living it. All I needed were my hoss and guns.
The rendezvous point I had agreed on with Casey did not disappoint. If not for the contemporary wheels in the Saloon parking lot, you’d think I’d jumped right into a Western complete with cowboys and ranches and saloons and whisky. See for yourself. I couldn’t help strutting around like Clint Eastwood.
Unfortunately for me my ambitions of being the star of my own Western were quashed sooner than I would have liked. Casey got there right on time. With a sigh I kept to myself, I said hello and moved my gear into his SUV, leaving Maia to fend for herself for the next four hours.
Casey was excellent company; he knew the landscape like the back of his hand, and it showed in all his recommendations. And if you’re ever interested he runs Joshua Tree Workshops for novices and experts alike. We drove into the park for about 20 miles and then hopped from one location to another sometimes on foot and sometimes on wheels, always seeking the next vantage point.
Joshua Tree Park is very famous for its numerous hiking trails and campsites. The dominant feature of the landscape comprises hills of bare rock broken up into loose boulders of different sizes and unusual formations, making this an attractive location for rock climbing and scrambling enthusiasts. Some of these formations have been named solely on their shapes – Cap Rock, Heart Rock, Skull Rock. You get the picture.
The Joshua Tree sparsely populates the flat land between these hill like formations. The Joshua Tree belongs to the Yucca species and a tree unlike any I have ever seen before. It does not grow very tall and has these crazy and wild bunch formations at the top. To me, the trees looked just like giant wild cacti. They’re quite gloriously pre-historic. I fully expected a Dinosaur to walk out from behind one.
The sky here is known to throw up a myriad of beautiful colours after the sun sets, but it was not my day as the clouds played spoilsport. But that’s the way it is with nature and wildlife. You spend hours and days in pursuit of that perfect shot. Occasionally Lady Luck is on your side, but most times she makes sure to show you your place. (Do I get props for sneaking a Vegas reference in?) We finished our session as the light faded and the temperatures hurtled down, creature of the tropics that I am, the cold weather made it impossible for me to stay out any longer.
As memorable as my visit was, I hope to be back soon someday. My perfect shots of the night sky above the Joshua Trees await.