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Joshua Tree

by Philip Greenspun, 1998


Joshua Tree National Park comprises regions of two deserts: the Colorado (the hot dry eastern portion of the park) and the Mojave Desert (the high cool western portion).


Not so close-up

Way High Up

You can drive to Keys View at 5,185 feet above sea level and see out over the Coachella Valley to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea.

The tree, the whole tree, and nothing but the tree

Actually Joshua Trees are succulents, related to the Yucca bush. According to the Michelin Green Guide to California , these were named by Mormon travelers. The strange contorted branches made them think of Joshua pointing the way to the promised land.

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and when you're not too lazy to drag out the 4x5 view camera... (click on the thumbnail below for an experience in sharpness)

Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree National Park.

Five Easy Pieces...

... of Joshua Trees

OK; maybe I could only find two.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Rock-oriented Photos

Just East of Twentynine Palms

If you keep driving east on California Highway 62, you will cross the Mojave Desert into Nevada.


Photographer working in the Colorado Desert. Joshua Tree National Park Visit in March or April so that you can enjoy the wildflowers. Take water and food into the park. Allow at least two days to see most of the interesting road-accessible sights. Bring a hat.

Stay and have dinner at the 29 Palms Inn in the town of Twentynine Palms: (760) 367-3505. The inn is less than a mile from the park entrance.

Photo Nerd Checklist

If you're a camera nerd, here is your checklist for Joshua Tree:

  • Tripod
  • Fuji Velvia and Fuji Astia slide film
  • cooler for film
  • Wide angle lens for all-around work. I brought my Canon 17-35/2.8L zoom.
  • perspective correction lens for images of Joshua Trees. I bought a Canon 24 T/S lens and it was often useful. A longer tilt-shift lens might have been nice as well.
  • Macro lens for wildflowers. The longer the better. I had a 180/3.5L Canon for most of the macro pictures on this page.
  • Telephoto lens to isolate and compress elements. In 35mm, I'd use an 80-200/2.8 zoom.
  • Camera body. If you were a real stud like I used to be, you'd take a medium or large format camera. If you are a lazy slob like I am now, you'd just stick with a Nikon or Canon 35mm SLR.
  • Panoramic camera. I had good luck using a Fuji 6x17cm camera in Joshua Tree.
  • Alarm clock. You'll need to get out at 6 am if you want to get good light. Oftentimes, it gets so windy by 9 am that you can't capture wildflowers effectively with a tripod (i.e., they are blowing around and your 1/15th of a second shutter speed will result in motion blur).

Readers' Comments

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Scott Gant , August 16, 1998; 10:16 P.M.

Wow, this new gallery sure does bring back memories. I used to practically live in the Joshua Tree National Park on the weekends when I lived in California.

My friends and I would get there on Friday night and camp out until Sunday. There is nothing like sleeping under the stars in the open desert air. Every star in the sky could be seen and during meteor showers it was almost like fireworks.

At night you also get packs of kangaroo mice jumping all over the place...which is why we always slept on cots instead of right on the ground. Besides, you didn't want to wake up with a rattlesnake curled up beside you!

Melissa Graboyes , January 30, 1999; 03:27 P.M.

Another thing that you might want to mention about Joshua Tree is that it is a great place to hike, bike and mountain climb. I live in California, and anyone who hikes or mountain climbs braggs about going to Joshua Tree, or,

Eugene Kingdon , March 01, 1999; 03:28 P.M.

This may not be a profound observation, but viewing the Joshua Tree photos, I am struck that if one puts aside the idea that green is the beautiful color of nature, earth tones are also very lovely. Also, that high resolution scans are very much worth the trouble and expense to serious photo lovers. Philip sets very high standards for us.

Chris Torek , January 26, 2002; 05:17 A.M.

1998's El Nino rains brought out loads of wildflowers, but there were few left by April 10 or so

Go in early April, if not earlier, for flowers -- by late April they are gone.

The nearby town of Yucca has exploded recently -- population was around 3000 when I was there in April 1998, and 30,000 when I was there in September 2001. This has pluses and minuses, such as convenient access to air-conditioned movie theaters on broiling 110-degree afternoons, but extra smog to hide the incredible nighttime sky. Fortunately Yucca is far enough away not to add much light pollution, if you are into astrophotography.

Peter Zhu , February 05, 2007; 06:30 P.M.

Quiet Desert

Just moved from the East Coast to the LA area, I am earger to explore the new enviorment. Joshua Tree National Park is so nearby and so I went there during a weekend. "Otherworldly" would be the best description for this desert filled with giant rocks and armies of Joshua Trees. One thing I found interesting was that the desert was so quiet, and I could easily hear people talking from a great distance.

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Christi Carnes , June 04, 2007; 09:36 P.M.

I grew up in 29 Palms and we hiked the "monument" as we used to call it just about every weekend when we were kids. Thanks for taking me back to my childhood!

Chuck Hayden , January 18, 2009; 08:54 A.M.

I am new to digital photography and had a chance to go to 29 Palms for a business trip. I had some time to visit Joshua Tree NP and took many pictures. It was a wonderful place to try out my new Canon 40D. As I said I am new to digital photography but I got some great shots. Shot mostly in JPEG becaues I am not confident with RAW yet, but I am working on it.

Looking forward to my next 'business ' trip with my camera.

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