Monday, August 19th 2013
I drove through the high desert in the sweltering heat, finishing out my 6 hours drive. It was seriously getting to my brain. Even my car was acting weird. Before I knew it, my gas tank was getting low and the yellow light was on.
I searched my phone for the nearest gas station. I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t make it. One seemed to be coming up ahead, so I pulled off the exit. I drove down this long and dusty desert road towards a monolithic gas station sign that towered in the moonlit sky, but something didn’t seem right.
Lo and behold, it was abandoned. I turned around and drove back towards the exit. The road seemed twice as long this time. Visions of mutated desert dwellers jumping out from the side of this barren stretch of road flashed through my head, akin to a scene from “The Hills Have Eyes”. Even better, now I had spent gas to drive further from my destination, gas that I couldn’t afford to waste.
Back on the highway, I forged on. My phone showed another gas station in the distance, but I was barely trusting. The needle sunk lower, and so did my chances of making it to my destination. I was beyond “E”, I was now in no man’s land.
Finally, a billboard appeared, bearing an ad for travel plaza ahead. The sign read “last gas station for 60 miles”. I pulled in.
Upon stepping out of my vehicle, the heat hit me in the face like a haymaker. I fought my way to the pump and leaned on my vehicle as my car inched lower and lower with every gallon of gas it sucked in. I walked inside to get ice for my cooler, grabbing an ice cream cone along with it. By the time I broke the ice and put it in my cooler, the cone had already begun melting. It was beyond HOT.
Back on the road, my mind was at ease. I made my way onto Cottonwood Springs Road and passed a sign with big white letters, reading:
ENTERING JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
My excitement was at an all time high. The full moon hung in the perfectly clear night sky, the road stretched on the horizon for miles and not another set of headlights was in sight. The joshua trees began sprouting up left and right, until the landscape was littered with nothing but.
I stuck my head out of the open window and shouted uproarious cries of hysteria at the surreal landscape surrounding me. The moon was so full, my headlights were barely necessary. So I did what any sane man would do. I killed them.
I drove down the road with my lights off, adrenaline surging through my veins as my eyes adjusted to the light. The moon filled in the voids that my headlights left behind, only now with the fill lighting gone, the joshua trees became mere silhouettes in the night, dancing on the desert sands.
The joshua trees were unlike anything I’ve seen before, with their leaves standing only off the top of the tree like the headdresses of the Native Americans that once inhabited these vast southwest landscapes.
With my headlights off, the silhouettes surrounded me like a ceremony of Indian ghosts, each one personified in it’s own way. Some short and fat, some tall and thin, some in clusters, seemingly huddled in a circle, giving praise to the full moon. I swear I could see them dancing. If ever there were a time I believed in ghosts, this was it.
I gripped my steering wheel with knuckles white and eyes peeled as I accelerated down the road. After some sharp corners and drainage dips, I nearly drove off the road. I flipped my headlights back on and made my way to my home for the night, Jumbo Rocks Campground.
I had never even heard of the place until the day before, when I was staying at Hostel Dubeau. During a conversation with a lovely young woman who was passing through Flagstaff, she suggested I check out this campsite. And how grateful I was for that suggestion!
I pulled forwards into the campsite and backwards in time. My first thought was a throwback from my childhood, “I’m in Bedrock!”
Though I wasn’t sure what to expect before I got there, Jumbo Rocks campground certainly lived up to it’s name. I set up my tent and settled in, soaking in the clear starry sky and the full moon’s rays. Without as much as a city light within 100 miles, the night sky was perfectly visible.
(It’s worth it to note that the following shots are long exposure night shots. Although they look bright and blue at times, you can see the stars in the sky.)
Notice the tent in the picture above.
I spent the night with the ghostly joshua trees by my side and reveled in the landscape. After a while, I noticed another photographer taking advantage of the perfect night, crouched on the top of a boulder across from my campsite.
I walked around the landscape in awe of my surroundings, feeling like a caveman.
Joshua Tree and this campsite in particular are very popular with rock climbers, and it’s not hard to see why.
While taking photos, I eventually ran into the photographer from the top of the cliff, Victor Vic. We began talking over our shared interest, and raving about the perfect conditions. Victor was a photographer based out of LA.
Just then, a system of broken, patchy clouds blew in overhead. They were not quite thick enough to blot out the moon, but instead made for an absolutely breathtaking photo shoot.
When Victor found out it was my first time there, he insisted on taking me to his secret spot. We climbed over boulders and walked through sand to get to this hidden treasure. When we got there, the only word I could use to describe it was ‘Zen’.
The long camera exposures left our images with the clouds streaking across the sky, elapsing time and space.
After a long time spent taking photos and getting to know a new friend, we headed back to camp. It was late and both our plans involved waking early. I exchanged contact info with Victor and we made plans to meet up in LA.
I got back to my tent and prepared for bed, but I just couldn’t stop taking photos. I put my camera on my tripod right outside my tent, turned on the timer and laid back with my head on the pillow, looking up through the roof at the captivating night sky.
I set my camera to Bulb mode, and took some much longer exposures.
After finding North, I took one last shot, with a ten minute exposure. You can see the North Star sitting still as the outer stars smear the night sky in there rotation.
I laid my head back and drifted to sleep.
Tuesday, August 20th 2013
In the morning, the sun came up and the cool night air quickly turned into desert heat. Sunrise was the wake up call, whether I wanted it to be or not.
I ate breakfast then broke down camp. All around my, tiny lizards were enjoying the warm rocks.
The sun was rising quickly, but I found a nice shaded spot that stayed cool. I wasn’t yet ready to leave so I grabbed my guitar and chilled.
But soon enough, I couldn’t escape the scorching hot desert sun. So I got up and started exploring.
I found a vantage point over the park.
Then walked around to greet the ghosts of the prior eve.
I began my departure from camp and went on a search for something new. I stumbled upon Skull Rock…
I then drove off, making my way out of the park. But not before checking one last scenic point of interest.
Coachella! The setting for the renowned annual music festival was right below me.
Notice the overwhelming haze of smog…
I drove out of Joshua Tree National Park, and cranked up my stereo. Cold War Kids’ “Audience” came on my playlist.
“Reach out your pointed finger
And touch the globe
Spin it round and where it stops you’ve got to pack your bags and go
Land in the Mojave Desert
Sing for the sun
Three’s too busy when you’re playing for an audience of one
Two’s two many when you’re playing for an audience of one
One is the only way you’re playing for an audience of one”
The lyrics struck me. Here I was, in the Mojave Desert, having just finished playing my guitar and singing my heart out to the vast expanse of nothing. On a trip which was largely based on impulse. Alone. I felt reassured, as if something bigger then I could comprehend was on my side.
I drove past a giant windmill farm on my way to LA. I was dirty and hot and sweaty, but my soul was spotless. I headed towards the land of broken dreams, through the Palm Desert, were the Queens of the Stone Age used to play back when they were Kyuss. For the first time ever, I’d finally be in the place I idolized as a young skate punk. I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I didn’t.
And on I went…