To some, Joshua Tree National Park is a sanctuary, to others it’s a playground of ancient boulders and endless desert, and to still others it’s simply a place of wonder and natural beauty. But in fact, it’s all of these things and still so much more. At More Than Just Parks we made our trek to Joshua Tree in January of 2015. It was, in reality, a return trip for my brother Will and I, as we had spent a short day there a year prior to this excursion. This, however, was to be a very different trip.
It is said that the park’s eponymous trees were named by Mormon settlers who were reminded of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. This story rings particularly true in the evening, when one can see the arms of a Joshua Tree stretched outward awaiting the arrival of the setting sun. That scene, played over and over again every evening in the park, continues to inspire people to travel from the corners of the earth to see this fascinating place.
As I said, we made our trip in January of 2015. When we first reached the main park road and pulled off at a turnout, there was still snow on the ground from a large winter storm that had blanketed the southwest in the days preceding our arrival. This was the same unannounced winter storm that we drove through in a cross-country, 37-hour marathon trip to reach Joshua Tree.
Over the ensuing nights and days, the last snowy remnants of our harrowing trip there melted away leaving behind the desert-landscaped park we had been expecting. On our third night we were treated to the yips and howls of coyotes that surrounded the campground, a few of whose stealthy approaches into our campsite were revealed only by the reflection of the campfire in their eyes.
After a few days of becoming familiar with the park and it’s filming quirks, we came to realize that clouds, precious clouds, whose graceful movements we welcome, were not going to be in the cards on this More Than Just Parks outing. In the business of time-lapsing, clouds can add an extra element of movement and liveliness to perhaps otherwise less lively shots.
However on this adventure, it seemed our old ally in the sky was not going to be available. In it’s absence, we ramped up our night photography and scoured the park for interesting wildlife. This added an extra element of exploration and adventure to our excursion.
Through days fraught with jackrabbit-chasing and boulder scrambling, and cold nights filled with coyote howls and never-ending time lapses, we began to gather evidence of a desert teeming with life. Search for wildlife in this park on a 3-hour visit and you’ll hard pressed to find more than a few scattered cactus wrens and the occasional raven. But stay for a week or more and you’ll realize that the wildlife is abundant and ever-present, keenly aware of your presence – true masters of camouflage.
For me, the boulders in Joshua Tree, perhaps even more so than the Dr. Suess-esque trees, are the most striking aspect of the park. These colossal masses of rock are seemingly everywhere, scattered about in immense clusters and piles like a giant’s extra lincoln logs. Finely whittled by the sands of time, they form odd shapes and figures. We got a chance to become fairly well acquainted with these boulders as we realized they were central to capturing all that Joshua Tree had to offer.
In one bouldering expedition, we scrambled, climbed, grabbed, and jumped from boulder to boulder chasing a shot of a lone bighorn sheep atop a high pile of the huge rocks. I assure you this was no easy feat having no real climbing experience and over 30 pounds of filming equipment in your hands and on your back.
It was quite a thrill though (many times in a more daunting sort of way). And, after 3 such expeditions on different days, we finally did come away with bighorn footage. Was it worth it? I say yes, but that’s because I’m alive with all my appendages still securely attached.
Joshua Tree is an incredible place, one that requires more than mere hours along a park road to experience. I highly recommend visiting the park and experiencing some of the very best the desert has to offer. Luckily for me, I’m a filmmaker and don’t need to rely on my words to sway you. Watch our short film and get a glimpse of what you can find on a trip to Joshua Tree.
Jim Pattiz is Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks
Fore more: morethanjustparks.com