100 Days of National Parks: Day 41 – Teakettle Junction, Death Valley National Park

Sometimes it’s the randomness of a place, the strange traditions it’s inspired, the sense of discovery when you stumble upon it without expecting it, that makes it great. For all intents and purposes there’s nothing special about the junction of Hidden Valley Road and Racetrack Valley Road in Death Valley National Park. Like much of the park, there’s a lot of dirt, some barren mountains, more dirt, some rocks, and a few scraggly desert bushes for texture, but not much else. Except for the sign, that is.

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Teakette Junction

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Sometimes it’s the randomness of a place, the strange traditions it’s inspired, the sense of discovery when you stumble upon it without expecting it, that makes it great.  For all intents and purposes there’s nothing special about the junction of Hidden Valley Road and Racetrack Valley Road in Death Valley National Park.  Like much of the park, there’s a lot of dirt, some barren mountains, more dirt, some rocks, and a few scraggly desert bushes for texture, but not much else.  Except for the sign, that is.

Continue reading “100 Days of National Parks: Day 41 – Teakettle Junction, Death Valley National Park”

100 Days of National Parks: Day 14 – Majesty in the Mojave, Joshua Tree National Park

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.

Majesty in the Mojave

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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.

100/100/100: Day 3 – Datura Bloom, Joshua Tree National Park

Datura Bloom

Beauty in our National Parks often comes in microcosm, the small things you notice amidst the grand vistas. Though this photo comes from Joshua Tree National Park in California, I first discovered the Sacred Datura on my first trip to Zion National Park in Utah, and I immediately became fascinated with this beautiful desert flower. Long known to native tribes for its strongly hallucinogenic qualities, it was used in many native american ceremonial rituals, including spiritual challenges and “vision quests,” as well as for its medicinal qualities as an anesthetic. The visions its roots and seeds induce are often dark, sometimes deeply disturbing, and have been reported to stay with the user for days or longer. It is truly representative of the desert, beautiful on the surface, but extremely dangerous.
When closed, its blossoms resemble a pinwheel, or the aperture of a camera, and it’s this resemblance, along with its vision-causing abilities, that made me choose it as a symbol for my photography business. It’s my favorite flower, and it’s in full bloom throughout the southwest at this time of year. Get out and find one, and appreciate the beauty of this dangerous plant.

Datura Bloom

Datura Bloom
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Beauty in our National Parks often comes in microcosm, the small things you notice amidst the grand vistas.  Though this photo comes from Joshua Tree National Park in California, I first discovered the Sacred Datura on my first trip to Zion National Park in Utah, and I immediately became fascinated with this beautiful desert flower.  Long known to native tribes for its strongly hallucinogenic qualities, it was used in many native american ceremonial rituals, including spiritual challenges and “vision quests,” as well as for its medicinal qualities as an anesthetic.  The visions its roots and seeds induce are often dark, sometimes deeply disturbing, and have been reported to stay with the user for days or longer.  It is truly representative of the desert, beautiful on the surface, but extremely dangerous.

When closed, its blossoms resemble a pinwheel, or the aperture of a camera, and it’s this resemblance, along with its vision-causing abilities, that made me choose it as a symbol for my photography business.  It’s my favorite flower, and it’s in full bloom throughout the southwest at this time of year.  Get out and find one, and appreciate the beauty of this dangerous plant.