Exploring Joshua Tree National Park

Claire Oring recently traveled to Joshua Tree National Park to explore the rock faces, canyon and gorge. All photos shot on Moment lenses.

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After about 2 and a half hours driving east from LA, my co-pilot Alec and I drove up a dirt road to find the little desert oasis we would call home for the weekend. We threw our stuff down and headed out to catch The Dustbowl Revival play a free show at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. They sounded like a love note to traditional American music, mixing bluegrass, swing, and jazz.

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The next morning, we had time to appreciate the cottage we rented in the light of day. It was adorned with handmade details, succulents, a hammock shaded between two Tamarisk trees, an outdoor claw foot tub, and a collection of records to set the mood. Alec brought a few of his own as well. Conveniently, the cottage was only a five-minute drive to the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. I was excited to leave my heavy DSLR at home for this trip, opting instead to carry my iPhone 6 around my neck with the Moment case and camera strap. I also carried the telephoto and wide angle Moment lenses in my jacket pockets.

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After a hearty breakfast at Crossroads Cafe it was time to head into the park. We drove into the West Entrance singing along to Hank William’s songs. Joshua Tree National Park has tons to explore for those who appreciate surreal desert environments. The Mojave and Sonoran deserts meet here to create a terrain that is bold and otherworldly.  The massive jumbles of rocks are made out of blonde granite and are totally asking to be climbed. I didn’t realize how huge they really were until I saw ant-sized climbers at the top of the formations in Hidden Valley. For the rest of my trip I included Alec in many of the landscape shots to portray a sense of scale.

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We headed straight for Arch Rock nestled in the White Tank Campground. The sign said it was a half mile hike but it felt much closer. We climbed the arch and took in the view from the top of the hill. The surrounding area was easily my favorite spot of the day. It felt like an adult jungle gym. As we wandered around I couldn’t help imagining what each rock formation resembled. It was sort of like watching clouds.

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That afternoon we explored the area around Jumbo Rocks Campground. Before leaving the car we noticed that the rain cloud that had spent the morning off in the distance had caught up with us. Alec was actually prepared for wet weather but all I had was the floral umbrella I kept in the trunk of my car. Luckily it only rained for about 15 minutes before the sun came back out.

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During this hike we stumbled upon a big canyon with two large rock faces creating a narrow gorge. Further on the rocks created a natural amphitheater. We realized that the acoustics in it were heavenly and we decided to hike back to the car to grab the guitar. When we got back Alec serenaded me and everything echoed in a beautiful way. I tried out my 18mm focal length and it was able to capture the magnitude of the place. At this point I had been shooting so much that my iPhone battery was running low. Luckily I remembered to bring an external charger to give it some extra juice.

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We left just in time to catch the end of golden hour in the flatlands. Everything glowed with the warm haze of the sun. The iconic Joshua Trees all had their own personality and character, as did the Cholla cacti. The Cholla have been nicknamed the “teddy bear” cacti, but you don’t want to get too close.

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That evening we perched on top of some boulders to watch the sunset. We ran across a sign that said there were prehistoric cave paintings in between two of the rocks, but there was pretty low light by that point and we couldn’t find them. The temperature dropped off quickly and we decided to head to Joshua Tree Saloon for BBQ and live music.

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I fell for all the colors in the desert. In the day everything’s washed out in soft pastels, but during the sunrise and sunset everything is saturated with fiery pinks and yellows. Regardless of the time of day, the desert felt like someone turned up the exposure making everything the sun touched bright and vibrant. Night was also special. If you live in a light polluted city like we do, you’ll be amazed by how bright the stars are out there.

We decided to wake up at dawn to catch the sunrise the next morning. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but I’m considering becoming one. It’s peaceful to wake up before the rest of the world starts their day. We rode into the park and wandered around on foot with no destination in mind. It was chilly but mugs of coffee kept our hands warm. I made sure to shoot a few pictures during blue hour before the sun peaked over the mountains.

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More and more I’m realizing how important time away from the city is for me. After a few days spent outdoors I leave with a clear, quiet mind and an improved perspective on the universe and my place in it. This quote by John Muir about our national parks sums up the feeling perfectly… “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” There isn’t any cell service in the park, but I promise you’ll leave with a better connection.

We soaked up all the fresh air and tranquility the desert offered. I’m already pining for more time spent unplugged, off the grid, and in the moment.

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