Kyle Kotajarvi

Day 14: Joshua Tree National Park

I have an everlasting love for National Parks.  Seriously, bless our Park Service for what they do to maintain such beautiful places.  Today, we finally got out of the nightmare that is Los Angeles and headed east towards Joshua Tree National Park.  It's about a two and a half hour drive from Los Angeles, so we decided to grab some snacks and water from the supermarket before departing.  The drive out was actually quite beautiful.  The SoCal landscape east of Los Angeles is a beautiful mix of desert and mini-mountains.  It's quite endearing.  

We made it the entrance of Joshua Tree at about 1 p.m. and excitedly entered the park.  The park was pretty darn busy since it was a Saturday, but I tried to not let it bother me too much.  Joshua Tree has three things: a lot of Joshua Trees, huge rock formations, and a lot of desert.  The first stop we made was about 5-10 minutes inside the park at an unmarked rock formation off the road.  Kassidy and Clancy climbed a huge rock formation while I wandered around.  We probably spent the first half hour just basking in the oddities of the park.  I found the Joshua trees especially odd. They created such a strange formations and were only about 10-15 feet fall.  

We made of second stop at a trail called Hidden Valley.  It was absolutely packed, so we didn’t make the traditional hike.  Instead, Kassidy and I climbed some pretty insane boulders through this mini-valley before making our way back into the car.  It was cool, but wasn’t exactly amazing.  At every marked turnoff, the parking lot was completely packed with cars, so we were discouraged from exploring some of the parks more popular sites like Skull Rock, Hall of Horrors, Geology Road, etc..  Eventually we came on the Mount Ryan campsite and I felt compelled to try and climb to the peak.  It wasn’t a huge mountain, but as Kassidy and I made our way up, it became clear that there wasn’t any way I wanted to take any risk making the summit.  The mountainside was completely covered in massive boulders, thorny bushes, and smaller rocks that provided almost no foothold.  I made it about halfway up the mountain before I decided the turn back.  Kassidy made it a bit farther than me to an overlook point before turning back as well.  I snapped a few photos of Clancy on the face of a huge boulder while Kassidy was making her way down before we departed the site.  

Our main goal of the day was to find Arch Rock and we failed miserably to do so.  We made it to the general area, but weren’t able to find the unmarked site before the sunset.  We watched the sunset over the vast desert before heading back the way we came.  The sunset was phenomenal.

Kassidy and I both wanted to take some star shots before we left, so we sat in our parked car on the side of the road for at least an hour until the sunlight completely subsided.  To our disappointment, the moon was so bright out in the park that it made star shots almost completely impossible, but we did have a few animal encounters in our failed endeavors.  Our first occurred while Kassidy was taking one of her shots out in the field.  Both Clancy and I were waiting in the car in the dark and just talking and then I noticed something big move across the empty road.  Quickly, I turned on the lights, only to see a huge Coyote meander across the road. We took off towards the Mount Ryan campsite, so I could take some shots, only to find a really pretty grey-tailed fox scavenging for food in the parking lot.  Basically the animals were the best parts of the day.  We headed back towards Los Angeles, but not before stopping for In-N-Out. All in all, it was probably about 7 hours of driving that day.  A great day, indeed.

I was a bit disappointed by Joshua Tree National Park.  I think I was expecting something different and had some difficulty finding landscapes that caught my eye.  I'm looking forward to going back and giving it another go though.  I think it would be an amazing place for a portrait session.