Wednesday, May 6, 2020

January Journey, Part 1 - Joshua Tree National Park

In January my photo buddy Bruce and I took a seven-day trip to visit Joshua Tree National Park in southern California and Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona.  This is the first of a three-part series about our journey.

Joshua Tree NP is huge -- over 1,200 square miles (larger than the state of Rhode Island) straddling two different desert ecosystems:  the higher-elevation Mojave and the lower elevation Colorado Desert, which is the western end of the larger Sonoran Desert that stretches into southern Arizona (which we will visit later) and northern Mexico.

Joshua Tree NP gets its name from the strange-looking variety of yucca plant (Yucca brevifolia) that is native to the Mojave Desert.

The tree branches take on weird shapes, like something out of a Dr. Seuss world:

In addition to the trees, the park is filled with large boulders and outcroppings of granite.

The outcroppings and boulders are great for climbing.  We saw these two climbers and their outfitter/coach (yellow shirt) when we stopped for lunch one day:

In some places solitary boulders appear far from the large outcroppings and boulder fields:

This one looks as if it fell from the sky of a Magritte painting:

If you are interested in how these boulders and rock fields were formed, the National Park Service has a nice 2-minute video and article about it here.

Before it became a national park, the area was used for grazing (and rustling) cattle and mining for gold, silver, copper, and other minerals.  There are 288 abandoned mining sites within the park.  One of the ranches and mines was owned by Bill Keys, a true wild-west character.  Keys also operated Wall Street Mill, a stamp mill that serviced his own mine and mines of others for crushing rocks to extract the ore.

Wall Street Mill (abandoned)

In the early 1940s, Keys got into a dispute with a neighboring rancher, Worth Bagley, who blocked Keys' access to the Wall Street Mill, claiming that the road to the mill crossed Bagley's property.  On May 11, 1943, to enforce his claim, Bagley opened fire on Keys; he missed.  Keys returned fire; he didn't miss.

Keys was convicted of manslaughter and served four years in San Quentin, until, through the work of crime writer Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason), he was pardoned and released in 1948.  After his release, Keys erected a marker where the shoot-out occurred.

                                                                      "Here is where
                                                                       Worth Bagly [sic]
                                                                       bit the dust
                                                                       at the hand
                                                                       of W. F. Keys
                                                                       May 11, 1943"

This marker is a replica; the original was vandalized and has been removed to prevent further damage.

We had a great time wandering around and photographing the bizarre looking trees.  

One of our favorite techniques was to capture a sunburst through the sharp-pointed leaves of the trees.  We got a bunch of them.

By chance, I even got a starburst in the very center of my lens, which yielded a bulls-eye from the internal reflections in the lens!  (Never had seen one of those before!)

Along the way, we saw a few ravens . . .

and a little Western scrub jay:

But in general we just enjoyed the weird-looking plants:

No trip in the southwest would be complete, however, without an old abandoned vehicle . . .

After a couple of days at Joshua Tree, we headed east to our next destination:  Saguaro National Park, adjacent to Tucson, Arizona (coming in the next post).

If you would like to see these and additional images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.



  1. Send tastic photos of the Joshua Tree's the granite boulders and the birds were beautiful too. I had a deja vu half way thru. Not sure why. Barry

  2. send tactic was really fantastic. Barry