Majesty in the Mojave
If I’m being completely honest, I find Joshua Tree National Park, above all others, to be the most difficult park to photograph. I believe the main reason behind this difficulty for me is the profound aversion I have to the Mojave Desert. Dry, dusty, gross, and gray, I feel like you have to work to find the beauty in this landscape, to appreciate the minutiae of the details. Perhaps I’m jaded from spending so much time wandering through the deserts of Southern California, perhaps my aversion to the landscape is more deep-seeded, but whatever it is, I really dislike the Mojave Desert.
Despite all of this, however, there is true majesty to be found in the right angles, the right moments. Taken as a whole, the Mojave, and Joshua Tree National Park, seem barren, lifeless, vast expanses of gray and brown nothingness. It’s when you look at the details, however, and notice the wild asymmetry of the joshua tree in bloom, the way it stands out, and above, the surrounding landscape, that the beauty of this seemingly lifeless desert comes to the fore.
The monolithic namesake trees in Joshua Tree National Park stand taller than any other I’ve seen, and seem ancient, permanent. Their bulbous late winter flowers protrude from their spiked arms, drawing in a huge number of pollinating insects. The shade of their outstretched branches is the only respite in all the surrounding countryside from the ever-present heat of the sun above. They seem at once permanent and infinitely fragile, impervious to the harsh elements in which they grow, yet feeling weak enough to tip over with a strong push.
The extra work to find the right shot in Joshua Tree is what, for me, makes the experience of exploring the park a great one. While most of its visitors wander the iconic boulder fields or seek out its numerous mines and hidden canyons, for me its the challenge of finding the beautiful moments, the minute details that aren’t readily apparent at first glance, to appreciate the majesty of the mojave, in spite of its many flaws.