Lori Carey Photography

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park Scouting Report - Day Two

A dramatic monzogranite rock formation at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Finally getting a little caught up, in between the mad rush to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner and plan another weekend adventure!

JTNP is a great place to photograph the Milky Way because there is very little light pollution. You can see so many stars that I find it difficult to spot the common constellations like the Big Dipper! For many people in light-polluted SoCal, a trip to the desert is the first time they'll see the Milky Way and it is truly amazing, so I wanted to play around with attempting to photograph it. What I learned is this: an exposure at ISO 1600 f/2.8 for 20 seconds seems to be the best, but unless you have an ultra-wide angle lens (especially if you have an APS-C sensor) you just can't do it justice. 28mm does not cut it for photographing the Milky Way. It was directly overhead and it just didn't make for a good shot with the gear I had. Perhaps if it were lower in the sky so I could get some distant foreground it would be better.

Since my plan to hit Barker Dam for sunrise was a bust Bill suggested we explore further up Park Boulevard to see if anything would catch my eye, but that was a bust too (common theme for the weekend haha) and before we knew we were at West Entrance Station. We decided to gas up in town before heading back to camp for some breakfast and to pack up, then head to the Skull Rock Nature Trail to catch the morning light. In hindsight I probably should've done the nature trail for sunrise since the trailhead was in right our campground.

This 1.7 mile nature trail wanders through a beautifully surreal area of weathered and eroded monzogranite rock formations and desert washes. Skull Rock itself is in the shade in the mornings so late afternoon would be best to photograph it, but there are many other beautiful formations to photograph. Once again we found that this trail was packed with people.

The Slull Rock nature trail wanders through a surreal landscape of weathered and eroded monzogranite rock formations and desert washes. Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Late morning we head out toward Keys View intending to stop by the Lost Horse Mine on the way. The turnoff for the Lost Horse Mine trailhead is along Keys View Road, a sandy road on the left. The trailhead had so many vehicles parked that Bill begged to skip it so we turned around and continued out to Keys View. If you are observant as you drive through Lost Horse Valley you'll spot the grave of Johnny Lang, a prospector who once owned the Lost Horse Mine. He died of starvation and froze to death in this spot while striking out to obtain provisions in the middle of winter.

John Lang's grave in Joshua Tree National Park. Lang was a prospector who once owned the Lost Horse Mine.

The inscription reads "John Lang died here. Buried by ? F Keys, Frank Kiler, Jeff Peeden, March 25 1925". Although he died mid-January, his body wasn't discovered until March by other prospectors. The January 1979 issue of Desert Magazine has a great article on the colorful past of Johnny Lang and the disputed ownership of Lost Horse Mine, "Legends of the Lost Horse Mine" beginning on page 8.

197901 Desert Magazine 1979 January

Keys View is worth the 20 minute drive for the panoramic view of the Coachella Valley. You can see Palm Springs down below, the Santa Rose Mountains and the 10,800 foot peak of San Jacinto, the Salton Sea out to the left, and a most impressive view of the San Andreas Fault. The viewpoint is wheelchair accessible. There is also a lot of haze from air pollution.

In this shot Palm Springs is at the base of the mountains and you can't miss the San Andreas Fault. Of course mid-day isn't the best time to shoot here.

Mt. San Jacinto, Palm Springs and the San Andreas Fault Line as seen from Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

By this time we had enough of the crowds and decided to start working our way out of the park via the North Entrance Station to see if anything else caught our eye, but we didn't spot anything of interest so we called it an early day and head back home.

Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful park with a wealth of opportunities for photography, it's just too crowded for our tastes. Day trips with a specific location in mind would work better for us if we were to return.

In case I don't get a chance to post tomorrow I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park Scouting Report - Day One

Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera) in the Pinto Basin, a 30 mile long, 10 mile wide flat area filled with sand and silt washed from the surrounding mountains in Joshua Tree National Park, Cailfornia.

When I plan a scouting trip I have a rough itinerary planned out with a goal of seeing as much as possible to get the lay of the land and plan the best time to return for shots I want, knowing that I probably won't have the light I want most of the time. I try to be at key locations for sunrise/sunset but it doesn't always work out that way.

Based on recommendations from other photographers we entered Joshua Tree from the southeast at the Cottonwood Visitor Center. This area lies within the Colorado Desert, a part of the Sonoran Desert. With elevations below 3,000 feet it is warmer and drier than the Mojave Desert, characterized by Creosote shrubs, Ocotillo and patches of Cholla cactus. Most people won't find this area of the park as visually interesting as they will the northeastern part, which lies in the Mojave Desert. You won't see any Joshua Trees here in the Sonoran Desert. There are some points of interest near Cottonwood but after hearing about the lack of campsites we decided that finding a place to set up base camp needed to be a priority so we started heading out in the direction of White Tank. Once you pass the Cottonwood Visitor Center (where it's worth the $12 to pick up the two-sided waterproof topo map for the park if you plan to do any real exploring) you have the Hexie Mountains on your left and the flat Pinto Basin on your right...and desert scrub for many many miles.

Along the way we noted the trailhead for Black Star Mine and Old Dale Road, saved for another day when we have time to explore this area and preferably some company.

The scenic Black Eagle Mine Road in Joshua Tree National Park wuns along the edge of the Pinto Basin and winds through canyons in the Eagle Mountains, passing near several old mining sites.

I wanted to visit the Cholla Cactus Garden on the western rim of the Pinto Basin as early as possible since it was along the way, hearing that morning light is the best time to photograph here, but stopping to read the interpretive signs along the way put us a little off schedule. There is a .25 mile self-guided nature walk through the garden with brochures available at the trailhead.

There are several different type of cactus here but the most predominant is Cylindropuntia bigelovii, commonly called Jumping Cholla or Teddy Bear Cholla (pronounced choy-ya). Although it may look soft and fuzzy from a distance, the slightest touch against one of the sharp spines causes the segmented joint to latch on tightly, making it appear as if the cactus 'jumped' onto its victim. Needless to say, one needs to be very careful on this trail.

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, California. Cylindropuntia bigelovii is commonly called Jumping Cholla or Teddy Bear Cholla. Although it may look soft and fuzzy from a distance, the slightest touch against one of the sharp spines causes the segmented joint to latch on tightly, making it appear as if the cactus 'jumped' onto its victim.

Then it was the scramble to find an open campsite. White Tank was my first choice but it only has 15 sites and was packed. Jumbo Rock was recommended by a park ranger. With 125 sites it is the largest campground in the park. After several circles around we finally found an available spot, set up camp and had some lunch. Both of these campgrounds are surrounded by fantastic granite rock formations which makes them a good choice for easily accessible sunset/sunrise photography locations and good choices for after dark light painting. Arch Rock Trail is in White Tank and Skull Rock Trail begins in Jumbo Rocks. I couldn't help but think that this formation directly across from our campsite looked like Yogi Bear sleeping on his side with his back turned to us -

This monzogranite rock formation reminded me of Yogi Bear sleeping on his side with his back turned to me. Jumbo Rocks campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California USA

Heading back out after some much needed food, the plan was to scope out Geology Tour Road and Barker Dam for the afternoon, then head over to Arch Rock before sunset.

Geology Tour Road is an 18 mile self-guided motor tour on a sandy loop trail through Pleasant Valley. There are brochures available at the trailhead and numbered stops along the trail. Although it's sand it was well graded and though I wouldn't take a low sedan on the road just about anything else should have no problems on this road. 4WD is not needed. Just make sure you look at the trail on a map first and understand that it is a loop. While doing some research I noticed Michael Reichmann's writeup on luminous-landscape.com and I could tell that he mistakenly turned onto Berdoo Canyon Road where it intersects Geology Tour Road, and Berdoo Canyon most definitely is a 4WD only trail, which is why Reichmann had the trouble he did. Berdoo Canyon Road goes out to I-10, Geology Tour Road loops around and returns to where it began. Whenever you head off pavement, especially in the desert, it is very important to either be familiar with the trail or have a good map/trail guide and gps/compass and know how to read it. Or hire me to be your trail guide. :)

Geology Tour Road is a great introduction to the geology of the desert, although it was nothing new for us and my increasingly cynical husband said "If you've seen one bajada, you've seen them all". The high point for me was the panoramic view of Pleasant Valley you see after the intersection with Berdoo Canyon Road. This is Malapai Hill and the Hexie Mountains. The Blue Cut Fault runs underneath this valley.

Panarama of Pleasant Valley in Joshua Tree National Park, showing the twin peaks of Malapai Hill and the Hexie Mountains. The Blue Cut Fault runs through here.

Joshua Tree and the twin peaks of Malapai Hill along the Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA. Malapai Hill is composed mostly of black basalt.

Hexie Mountains and a Joshua Tree are some of the beautiful scenery in Pleasant Valley along the Geology Tour Road in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA. To the far left of the mountain range you can see where the White Tank Monzogranite meets the harder Pinto Gneiss rock.

I had seen many gorgeous sunrise photos taken at Barker Dam with the reflection of the rocks in the lake and I wanted to plan to be there early the following morning, but Barker Dam was a bust on many levels; the nature trail out to the dam felt like an amusement park line there were so many people and there was barely a trickle of water. I'm sure that there's not nearly as many people on the trail before sunset, but without water for reflections there wasn't much else here to make a pre-dawn return trip worth my while. Another disappointment here is that the 'official' petroglyphs with interpretive sign had been traced with paint. I've heard that there are other petroglyphs in this area that are well preserved in their natural state, but you need to do some exploring because people keep the exact locations quiet to prevent additional 'well-intentioned' vandalism.

We had some time to kill before heading over to Arch Rock so we tooled around on the back roads through Queen Valley before stopping to watch the climbers at Intersection Rock. The Pullharder crew was having their annual Halloween BBQ at the top of Intersection Rock and many of the climbers were in full costume.

The Pullharder crew was having their annual Halloween barbecue at the top of Intersection Rock - here is one of the costumed female climbers. Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I did a little climbing when I was (much) younger so I love to wistfully watch and Bill was amazed by one guy in leather pants, bare chest and chains (Rocky Horror?) who could free climb like Spiderman (note to self: really need a longer lens to shoot climbers...or climb up there with them!) so we ended up hanging around longer than we should have. By the time we got to White Tank and made the short hike to Arch Rock the sun was already too low. You need to know that Arch Rock is DOWN and the low late fall sun is blocked early by the ridge above. I remind myself that this is just a scouting trip, that's the whole point of a scouting trip and now I know for next time.

We'd been up since 3:30 and had a very full day, so it was time to head back to camp for some dinner and to lay out the next day's agenda.

More later...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park - "Desert Lite"

Black and white study, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I had been avoiding Joshua Tree National Park like the plague for the simple reason that it's too popular; everyone knows about and visits JTree as it's known to locals. When we started planning last weekend's trip Bill asked that I find someplace that didn't require a 5 hour drive to get to the trailhead and I figured since Joshua Tree is only 2.5 hours from home it was a good time to go check it out so we could at least say we've been there and check it off the list. We've spent a lot of time in the high desert of the Mojave and the low desert of the Colorado (a subsection of the Sonoran) and I thought it would be interesting to see both at the same time and where they meet up.

To understand this post's title of "Desert Lite" I have to give you some backstory: I grew up in the outdoors, camping and hiking since I was a baby. My dad is a great outdoorsman and taught me everything he knows, and for several years I went hunting with him, my grandfather and their friends (until I decided that I didn't really like the taste of game, and if I wasn't going to eat it I wasn't going to kill it). Being outdoors is a way of life for me. My husband on the other hand grew up without a father around and except for boating and fishing on the Atlantic Ocean, didn't spend time in the greater outdoors. I had to slowly indoctrinate him and we started with hiking. We even spent out honeymoon hiking around Arizona, but 'base camp' was always a hotel.

My career kept me too busy during the early years of our marriage but when we moved to California the call of the wild was too strong for me to resist. When I first brought up the topic of camping he refused to camp anyplace where he couldn't take a shower. That meant (gasp) crowded public campgrounds. His maiden camping trip was in Cleveland National Forest, close to home just in case, and he settled in well and decided he liked it. His first desert camping trip a few months later was in Anza-Borrego, again in a public campground with a shower, and that's when he started realizing that he didn't like having so many people around because it ruined his peace and quiet (yay!). After a few primitive camping trips with our friends from Project JK he was 100% hooked on being in the middle of nowhere with no one else around and the Mojave Road taught him that he wouldn't get cooties if he went a couple days without a shower (and that I knew what I was talking about when I told him about unscented baby wipes).

But I didn't realize how thoroughly he was converted until last weekend. The only backcountry camping in Joshua Tree is hike-in and no camp fires are permitted. The desert is cold at night, sometimes below freezing, and I did not want to camp if I couldn't have a fire for heat. The second the sun goes down the temperature drops like a rock. There is some BLM land outside the park to the south that allows campfires, but it would mean a lot of backtracking over too many miles (50?) and then having to cover that ground again the next morning. The BLM land to the north doesn't permit campfires. That left (gasp) the public campgrounds.

JTNP has 9 campgrounds with 490 campsites, first come first served. We arrived at the park by 8:30am and the ranger told us that all campgrounds were full but we could hang around and hope to get lucky. We did manage to grab a site at Jumbo Rocks, which is in a beautiful location. BUT at every campground we checked out the sites are right on top of each other and right on the road that winds through the campground. Since there are pit toilets throughout the campground there is steady traffic, vehicle and pedestrian, along the road as people make their way to and from the toilets. There was music coming from every direction, tons of loud kids and the beautiful rock formations were covered with people. Bill muttered about it not being quite what he expected, but we set up camp to reserve our spot and then headed out to explore.

Hiking trail in Joshua Tree National park, California, USA

We visited a few of the main attractions - the Cholla Garden, the Geology Tour Road, Barker Dam (very little water) - and we were hiking to the next destination (along with a hundred other people) and joking about the steps cut into the rock, all of the Day Use Only areas and how everything was 'just so' when Bill turned to me and said "This is like Desert Lite! This is for people who can't handle the REAL thing!" hahahahaha

"I remember the first time I took you camping and you said..."
"Hush! Don't say it!"
"I'm really proud of you Bill, you've come a long way and you're finally fully converted."

I don't mean to denigrate our National Park System at all. I've enjoyed visiting many of them and they are always beautiful, clean, well kept and have wonderful interpretive information so I always learn something. Joshua Tree is among the nicest we've visited and it is a beautiful example of the local desert environment. It's a safe way for people to visit the desert and hopefully develop an appreciation for it. National Parks just aren't a place to go when you want to get away from it all. If you're spoiled like we are and used to having solitude and complete quiet, visiting a National Park such as JTNP requires a bit of an adjustment of expectations - there will be LOTS of people.

It's also a good reminder of how fortunate we are to have hundreds of miles of open trail just waiting to be explored here in California, and that we need to do our part to protect and maintain those trails so we can continue to enjoy the complete solitude. Tread lightly, leave it better than you found it, and take only photographs and memories.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iridescent Clouds

Iridescent clouds over Joshua Tree National Park, 6 November 2010.

Two cloud posts in a row! :P
But these were really cool to see and Bill mentioned them as soon as we walked in the door today.

Yesterday we saw iridescent clouds throughout the south Mojave and Joshua Tree several times during the day. When parts of a cloud are thin and have similar size water droplets diffraction can cause them to show colors of the rainbow. This usually occurs within 20 degrees of the sun (which makes them difficult to view directly) but can occur further away. The quantity of bright white light makes them appear pastel, and the ones we saw yesterday were pink and green.

My photos don't do them justice - the colors were so bright at times you couldn't miss it - but 'someone' forgot to take off her polarizing filter (ask me about my disappearing rainbow some day).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cumulous convectus

Just a quick one while I'll pack my gear for the weekend. :)

I usually see these huge towering clouds rising over the hills behind my house after a storm and they are gorgeous. Cumulous congestus form in unstable areas of the atmosphere which are undergoing convection and that usually causes them to be taller than they are wide. They can reach an altitude of 15,000 to 20,000 feet.

It is amazing to watch them grow right before your eyes. Because they rise from behind the hills here at my house they sometimes look like giant mushroom clouds and the first time I saw one form I was absolutely amazed.

I'm looking forward to a weekend with a new moon/dark sky, Leonid meteor showers, a new place to explore with some incredible rock formations and a natural arch, and (hopefully this time please) low winds so I can do some night photography.