Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park consists of two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado. The Mojave desert located in the north is famous for its Joshua trees and granite rocks, whereas the Colorado desert is characterized by scrub and cactus. For most visitors, the Mojave desert is the more scenic one with better logistical support. It has most of the park's campgrounds and two small towns (Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms) on the north side where visitors can base from. 

We visited the park in early June 2016, one of the hottest months through the year. The temperature usually goes up to 110 degrees in those months. Although it was super hot, it also means solitude and other-worldly.  In fact, if you love star gazing or night photography, summertime is a better time to visit the park in my opinion. The park has two main roads: Park Blvd surrounding the north part and Pinto Basin Road leading to the south. Photography opportunities are abundant along both roads.

Joshua Trees

Apparently, Joshua trees are the main scenes all visitors want to see. Joshua trees have unique and beautiful branches that are perfect for photography. This also means it's relatively easier to take original photos with unique perspectives. The only limits will be your imagination and patience!

When we were done shooting the sunset with a beautiful big Joshua tree along the park blvd we discovered during the daytime, we saw this beautiful twilight on the other side of the sunset. An image with the silhouette of Joshua trees immediately came to my mind at that time, and this is the result. Joshua trees with branches (but not too many) are great subjects to shot silhouette to create simple images with only a few colors.
Joshua tree and a bird resting on it
A Joshua tree at sunset
You get to know how it feels like in the middle of nowhere by visiting the park on a summer day in the early afternoon under 105+ F.
Hidden Valley has a lot of big and beautiful Joshua trees. I regretted that I didn't explore enough of this area. I took this photo right before we were leaving the park. I wish I had more time to stay there until sunset for more photographic opportunities. This area is highly recommended.

Star Gazing and Night Photography

This park is one of the best places to do some serious night photography for two reasons. First of all, the night is really really dark. During the summertime when the moon has already set, the milky way is clearly visible. Admiring the stars makes you think about time and space! Secondly, it has few people around in the summertime. Additionally, the night temperature is actually very pleasant to stay outside! Of course, you won't find yourself alone neither. For those popular places, there will be other photographers around.

For the milky way photos I show below, I use a star tracker to get a longer time exposure, while keeping ISO at 800. This results in a phone with the clear milky way and no noise at all!

The dark sky at Joshua Tree National Park on a moonless night is such a great opportunity for star gazing. This photo was taken at the Jumbo Rocks Campground. There was an instructor-led group as well on the same site shooting star trails and the milky way.
Another Milky Way took near Jumbo Rock Campground. It took me a while to take this photo because other photographers kept doing light painting on the rocks, which I don't want to have in my photos.

Star trails. This is a combination of photos taken over an hour with each exposed for one minute.

Rock Formations

The park's rock formations are another great photographic subjects worth your time visiting. To snap more unique and original pictures, try to look for different perspectives and lights. Sunrise, sunset time is almost always the best time to photograph the rocks to avoid strong shadow and reflection.

This photo was taken at the Jumbo Rock Campground. We were fortunate enough to have some light clouds partially covering the sky. Just a few minutes after the sun entirely set, the clouds turned into a mix of golden and red colors, adding a beautiful touch to the image. It was a bit difficult to get a shot at this angle as there were like six cameras and tripods set up on the same spot by a photography group waiting for shooting star trails.
The skull rock is very accessible in Joshua Tree National Park - just steps away from a stop on Park Blvd. I was initially a bit reluctant to stop by to check it out because these "famous" rocks have been shot by too many people and would be difficult to get a different angle. But we decided to give it a try as we were just driving around the park and waiting for sunset. It actually wasn't disappointing at all. From this angle, it REALLY looks like a skull!!
Twilight at Jumbo Rock Campground. We were actually watching the sunset in the other direction but found out the opposite side is much more beautiful after the sunset.

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