Joshua Tree national park

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Joshua Tree National Parkis about a 45 minute drive fromPalm Springs CA, and might as well be on another planet — it is so removed from the urban glitz of that fair town.

Joshua Tree Sunrise
Sunrise — Joshua Tree NP, 1996

Photograph taken with a Nikon F4 and 85mm f/1.8 lens on Provia 100

Return visitors may also be interested in viewing a new portfolio of images taken at Joshua Tree in January of 2000. This was my fifth visit to the park and it generated a number of strong new images, mostly of a graphical nature.

Getting There and Where to Stay

From Los Angeles take Interstate 10 to Hwy 62 north to Twentynine Palms, the town closest to the Park.  This is about a 3 hour drive.  Here you will find motels, restaurants and gas stations.  To add a little glamour to your high-desert trip you can also start in Palm Springs.  Better yet, 20 minutes north-east of Palm Springs lies the quiet little town of Desert Hot Springs, and just outside of it lies a wonderful spa and resort called Two Bunch Palms.  We frequently vacation there because not only is it a quiet and relaxing place to chill but it provides easy access to the park. Highly recommended.

When we stay at Two Bunch, I usually rise a couple of hours before sunrise so as to be at the Park for the best morning light.  After best-light I can be back at the hotel by 10 or 11am ready to join my family and friends for the day.

I’ve now explored the park on numerous occasions and always find something new and exciting to shoot.

Pick up a park map as you drive into the park at the Twentynine Palms Visitor’s Center.  This can be a problem if you enter the park at 5am for a sunrise shoot, because the Center will be closed, so be sure to pick one up on your way out for the next time.

Spring is a great time to visit because of the wildflowers.  But, the Joshua Trees and Cholla Cactus are a visual treat at any time of year.  Summer is, as you might expect, extremely hot.  I usually find myself there in January or February (escaping the Canadian winter for a few days of relaxation at Two Bunch Palms), and have found the weather then to be ideal.  No matter what time of year that you visit be sure to take plenty of bottled water and snack food, because there are no services or facilities within the park.

Lost Horse Valley

Lost Horse ValleyLost Horse Valley, 1997

Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and 90mm Schneider Makro lens on Provia 100.

This is quite possibly one of my favorite places in the world!  A small box-canyon at the end of a dead-end road, it is serene and exquisitely beautiful.  Though I have hiked it many times, I have yet to photograph it in a way that properly captures its quiet beauty.  I suppose I have to go back again to try one more time.

Get to the parking area at dawn and try a shot of the Joshua Tree forest that lies opposite the entrance.  Once sun is up, start hiking into the valley.  There is a trail and you can wander for hours without getting lost because there is no exit to the valley other than the way that you came in.  Horse rustlers are supposed to have once used the valley as a hiding place from the law.  If true, they had a truly spectacular hide-out.

Keyes View

Sunrise From Keyes ViewSunrise From Keyes View, 1997

A wonderful vantage point located a couple of thousand feet above the valley floor, Keyes View faces south and so both sunrise and sunset provide excellent opportunities for dramatic sky-scapes.  The image above is included here because it shows how spectacular the air pollution from Los Angeles can make a sunrise.

Every time I’ve been to Keyes View it has been extremely windy and cold.  This is due to a combination of altitude and location at the end of a long valley, so be prepared.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Garden, 1998

Located about 30 minutes inside the park (on the southern end, opposite from Twentynine Palms) via the access road that runs north from Interstate 10, lies the Cholla Cactus Garden.  Not a garden, in the sense that no one planted it, these beautiful man-sized cacti grow in profusion in this one small area, due to a unique combination of soil and climatic conditions. The garden lies at the top of a huge sloping plain and is surrounded by low mountain ranges.  To be there at dawn with the sun rising over the distant hills, and with each spike on the cacti standing out in bold relief against the chill morning sky, is a truly unique photographic experience.

Cholla Garden at SunriseCholla Garden at Sunrise, 1997

Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and 90mm Schneider Makro lens on Provia 100.

A word of caution.  The cacti have incredibly sharp, hooked needles. It is all too easy to brush against one, or to back into one in the rush of setting up a shot. If you do, as I have done, you will spend the rest of a painful day extracting the barbs and applying an antiseptic to inflamed skin.  Be careful.

Another visit toJoshua Treein early 2000 produced some additional Cholla photographs.

Geology Trail

While most of the park is accessible by passenger car on paved roads, there is a road called Geology Trail which, if you have a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle, is worth the tour.  It cuts south through the park and eventually ends up at Interstate 10.  But, it is a challenging road.  At one point it took me an hour just to cover a one hundred yard stretch because of the need to maneuver over large rocks and through gullies.  I was in a rented Ford Explorer and managed to do the trail in about 3 hours (excluding shooting time).  There was no damage to the vehicle, but don’t try this unless you’re experienced with off-roading and have a suitable vehicle.

Backlite Tree on Geology TrailBack Lit Tree — Joshua Tree NP, 1998 (D)

This photograph was digitally enhanced using a process know as Gaussian Blur.  Click on the picture above to enlarge it to a proper size.  The small size that you see here obscures the special effect that this technique makes possible.  Use your browser’sBACKbutton to return here afterward.

Geology Trail has some sections which cry out for panoramic treatment.  The photograph below was taken with a Noblex 135u, but any wide format camera will do an excellent job. To read more about panoramic photography, click here.

Geology Trail

Geology Trail, Joshua Tree NP, 1998

Taken with a Noblex 135U on Provia 100.

Also located within less than a hour’s drive of Palm Springs is the Salton Sea. If your interest lies more in wildlife than landscape, the Salton Sea is a must visit during the winter months when migratory birds by the millions inhabit its shores.


Michael Reichmann

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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