I was wanting to try and take some Milky Way and star trail images and began searching for dark skies. My internet search led me to Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). There are many Vlogs and Blogs regarding JTNP and photographing there. My grandparents had lived in a community near the Park, when I was a teen they took me there one summer. At the end of last year, we made the trip.
My wife had time off work, we started to make arrangements. We had a hotel reserved close to a couple of the entrances. We contacted the JTNP Visitor Center and arranged for a special guided tour of the Keys Ranch. The tour begins at a locked gate where you are met by a park ranger who escorts you past the gate a mile or so, then conducts a walking tour of the turn of last century cattle ranch. I checked for theaters in the area – I wanted to take my wife to see Mary Poppins Returns, Palm Springs could accommodate this and we could also walk down their Walk of Stars.
We were loaded up with suitcases, camera, lenses, tripod, lights for illumination of Joshua Trees at night and a list of sites to see and photograph. I had discovered the Milky Way is best seen in the summer months so I would focus on star trails. But there were things we were not prepared for: rain, cloudy skies, freezing temperatures and the government shutdown! We had brought our “coastal warm” clothing, funny how the desert wind seemed to cut right through it. This was starting to feel like the weekend we spent in Texas the month before, only difference, this was a mostly outdoors trip. The shutdown had placed all the JTNP staff officially OFF, the Visitor Center was closed but the main gates were still open. The ranch tour was cancelled. The bathrooms inside the park, none are actually of the flushing variety, were being serviced by volunteers from the community. This was quite the news story as we saw several Los Angeles news station vans and camera crews interviewing the volunteers and visitors.
We did get to see and enjoy JTNP, and visit and hike through the highlights. I photographed Arch Rock, Cap and Skull Rock, Hidden Valley, Keys Lookout, the Cholla Forest and Barker Dam. We didn’t see any Desert Bighorn Sheep but we did have a Roadrunner pass by.
So did I say it was cold, it was very cold at night when we went back for star pictures. Well I got three quick shots of stars and that was that…no trails…just too cold!
Needless to say, we are planning on a summertime visit, the Milky Way will be in all its glory, the night temperatures should be perfect for extended time under the stars, the Keys Ranch Tour will be available and hopefully the bathrooms will be stocked and clean!
JTNP has many different types of landscapes to view and photograph. The plants and trees also vary from area to area. It is truly a National Treasure which I’m glad is protected by the National Park System.