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Joshua Tree National Park
October 21-24Dear Friends, Family and Diary,
Written October 21+
On Sunday, we drove south for five or six hours, to the village of Joshua Tree. Part of the drive, the part through Bakersfield and into the Mojave desert, was a repeat from earlier trips east. By now, that part of California is less interesting, first past miles of farm fields, then over Tahachapi Pass, and finally into the high desert. I suppose I am getting jaded, or I just favor forest and coast land over dry desert.
Or goal is Joshua Tree National Park. We chose this destination because it was the last National Park in California for us to visit. (I think.) As we start this trip, I have to admit I know nothing about what we will be seeing. I know many folks are real rock and cactus fans, but I am not quite there. Marianne is more attracted than I am, but we will see. (The map on the right is included for grandson Sam's sake. It shows that we are near to the Chocolate Mountains, a map entry that has fascinated him ever since he started looking at our back seat Southern California map. Maybe we should visit?)
As we approached Joshua Tree, we saw signs for an "Art Tour", similar to the Sierra Art Trails signs we had followed a couple of weeks ago. We had to stop, at least for a few open studios. The work from these local painters and photographers was significantly different, with their own desert-inspired subjects and colors.
Our residence for the next three days is the Desert Lily, a charming B&B very near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Owner Carrie offers three B&B rooms, a pair of cabins, and a spectacular wedding venue.
Back at the Desert Lily, we settled in for a quiet evening, something grumpy oldsters enjoy. The weather was perfect, neither hot nor chilly, and the evening views calming. Maybe this place is OK after all.
I was up early, very early, on Monday. I wanted to try some night-sky photography and had to wait for the moon to set about 4:30am. I am still working on getting focus right, and the area really isn't as dark as a star hooter would want, but the hour spent clicking was worth the lost sleep. That's all I could ask for.
First pair, just stars. Orion is my favorite constellation because the three-star belt line is the easiest thing to identify. (I suppose I should make these lighter somehow, but, really, the sky is dark at night.)
These three pictures are of the same section of sky. As I boosted the camera sensitivity ("ISO"), more and more stars come into view. There is some sort of astronomy lesson here: almost infinite stars.
Finally, stars fade as the sky lightens up. End of playing and practicing. Someday I will need improved skills to capture that perfect Milky Way photo. And, of course, the Milky Way needs to be visible, unlike this night.
After that, Carrie served a great breakfast and then I wandered around the Desert Lily taking pictures of cacti and birds. A wonderful morning setting.
Finally, about 11:00, we started our exploration of Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). Over the course of the next seven or eight hours, I took 300+ pictures. I will not show ALL of them and I will try to be organized. It may be too much, but that's how the park is, vast spaces of rocks and trees that is a bit overwhelming, especially for a place just a couple hours from Los Angeles.
The Joshua Trees of JTNP are not trees. We learn such trivia from reading all the explanatory placards placed around the park. It's great, we come away thinking we are experts, just because we learn the "trees" are variations of the yucca family of plants. Still, they sure look like trees to me. We also learned that Joshua's grow at about an inch a year, so these 30 or 40 foot giants are very old!
We worked in two separate one-mile hikes, the first through Hidden Valley, a 20 acre meadow that held some of the best examples of the Mojave Yucca found in the park. A few of the plants still had flowers, making them dramatic and easy to identify.
The meadow of Hidden Valley is surrounded by rock walls that apparently call to climbers. We see these daredevils up in Yosemite, on much higher granite walls, but I think I liked this closer view. (In any case, falling from 100 feet or 1,000 feet is probably equally damaging. I'll leave this sport to others.)
Speaking of rocks, throughout the park there are all sorts of dramatic rock formations. Most of them are splintered and rounded from the erosion of rain and wind. It is hard to believe, but this area actually gets more rain than Fresno, but it comes in big gulps and has the potential to wear away even granite.
Our favorite rock formation was this one. It probably has some sort of official name, but we thought looked like a frog or a fish. Which do you see?
The other mile hike we tried was to Baker Dam, a structure built in 1900 to hold water for local cattle ranches. It was actually a fairly rugged walk in and I thought about how the people back then carried in all the cement and steel. Tough folks.
Our last stop was at Cholla ("cho-ya") Gardens, overlooking Coachella Valley. Another opportunity for those panoramic shots that need a twenty foot wall to display, but I continue to do it anyway. It's just fun to do, and easy with modern cameras and software.
The main attraction of Cholla Gardens is, naturally, a huge spread of Cholla plants, the largest anywhere in the park (or the world?). We had been seeing these prickly plants all day, but here we could get up close to all kinds and sizes. We were careful however, because there were signs around reminding people that touching the spiny "leaves" can be very painful indeed.
We ended our day at Cholla Gardens. Carrie, the Desert Lily proprietress, had recommended the spot for sunset pictures and we arrived almost an hour ahead of schedule. We enjoyed spending the time with plant photography and just gazing out at the surrounding mountains and valleys. In the end, the single picture with a bit of sunset red may not have seemed worth the time, but it was.
Tuesday was simpler. Nice breakfast, again. Plenty of chit chat with Carrie. It has been fun talking among the three of us, a bit like encountering an old friend whom we had not seen since high school and who had a whole life of experiences to share. Definitely not your normal hotel-client interaction!
Marianne had selected some art places to sample, and I was OK with that, as long as I didn't need to think too much. The first stop she chose was artist Noah Purifoy's "Outdoor Desert Air Museum of Assemblage Sculpture". Sounded harmless enough. I knew enough that any art called "assemblage" is basically junk and I can wander through junk collections without much heavy thought.
Strangely enough, I really liked this place. Purifoy was an accomplished artist and art instructor who died in 2004 in his mid-80s. His "assemblage museum" was the work of over 15 years in the desert, putting together what others threw away. As a black artist, he was a pioneer in many ways in both the world of visual art and in use of art in social contexts.
Purifoy's work does, however, require thought. Some, like this pairing of a water sources labeled "White" (fountain) and "Colored" (toilet) were brutally plain in their meaning, others more subtle and all complex. Here are just a few that struck me, but as the museum website shows, there are many more "installations" than my examples.
Walking in, the first impression is just a collection of junk. Farther in, the pieces are clearly the result of a lot of work, but still hard to explain, either from a broad view or, more so, from an examination of the details.
After this art exposure, we tried to find other galleries or antique stores, but failed completely. Maybe we had just been saturated by the assemblages.
Lunch/dinner was a pair of curry dishes at "Sam's Indian Food and Pizza". The main dishes were good and the garlic naan was great. Another Joshua Tree secret. Our early main meal gave us plenty of time to hang around the Desert Lily, reading, diary-writing, drawing, and just generally relaxing. One day of traipsing over the parkland needed to be balanced, after all. The moon rose and signaled time for wine and chocolate chip cookies, both courtesy of Carrie and the Desert Lily. We could get used to this.
I was up early enough for sunrise and I tried some pictures, but the images really don't capture the moment. Not broad enough. Not quiet enough. You need to be there in person.
Slowly, we ate another excellent breakfast and then packed up for the six-hour drive home. It was hard to see the Desert Lily sign behind us, but I'll admit I was glad we could avoid the rough roads in and out. (This was the GOOD road to the B&B.)
Our dive home was uneventful: long, some construction, moderate traffic otherwise, and a good lunch break at Kohnen's Country Bakery. This place was a Carrie recommendation and it featured authentic German breads, sandwiches, and baked goodies.
I doubt we will be back this way soon. Joshua Tree NP was interesting enough, but we are not the serious campers or hikers or climbers that might be interested in more days. The Desert Lily was special enough, but it's hard to say if we would be as charmed by a a repeat visit. And, as for the "Outdoor Desert Air Museum of Assemblage Sculpture", once may be enough.
Not much more planned, but who knows.
John and Marianne
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