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.
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.
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.
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.