About 125 miles east of L.A.,  a harsh but delicate desert land has been preserved as a national park. It’s called Joshua Tree, after the odd, tree-like yuccas that grow there.

Rock, wood, leaf, spine, flower, lizard, vulture –

the adaptations of form and function to place

seem more than one can begin to understand.

On my first day at Joshua Tree I explored the northern end of the park.

The next day I traced the main road – all 60-odd miles of it, to the southern entrance.

It was a slow journey of many stops, and as I neared the park’s southern border I was hot, thirsty and hungry.

More important, water and gas were running low.

There are no stores or gas stations in the sprawling park, so I left in search of gas, water and food.

And then re-entered.

Heading back north, I drove the long, sloping and winding two lane road with one eye – OK, often two eyes – out for the subtle colors and striking shapes I had quickly come to associate with Joshua Tree.

I stopped frequently.

I took photographs.




Pulling over and stepping down a well worn, boulder-strew path sheltered by gnarled branches felt like climbing straight into a fairy tale. My gaze switched back and forth between the big picture – those fantastic rocks, the distant vistas, the big trees – and the close at hand – a lizard disappearing into shadow, a barb on a cactus, sunlight playing on flower petals.

The strange Smoke Tree (Dalea spinosa), whose twigs can photosynthesize (!) made a soft haze of palest gray green from afar. It leafs out only for a few weeks of the year.

And the pretty Desert Bluebells (Phaecelia campanularia)  was difficult to photograph in the blazing, harsh sunlight, but I couldn’t resist that blue!

Twisted textures of ancient oak bark

invited lingering.

A cactus, warmed by late day sunlight:

Opuntia basilaris.

The name’s rhythm tripping a staccato

ping, ping, ping  –

like the tiny barbs that march

across its surface.


Everywhere, boulders were improbably piled and balanced on ancient weathered rock.

Another Opuntia cactus glowed cool blue-green in the shadows.  Named O. englemannii, after German immigrant George Englemann, a medical doctor who explored America’s western flora, its fruit was eaten by indigenous people. But the tiny spines on the fruits, called glochids, have to be removed first!  This attractive cactus was brought to Africa as an ornamental and is now a noxious weed in Kenya and South Africa.

It’s all about place, and geography!  What defines and integrates into one place may be a poor guest in another place.


Barker Dam, constructed over a hundred years ago by ranchers, beckoned. I will have to return another time to see the Bighorn Sheep that come here, and I didn’t see the petroglyphs either. But I was well satisfied by the magic.

There was just enough moisture

for willows.

Catkins gathered sunlight,

their glow drawing me from across the pond.

A little mud on my shoes? No problem!


The rocks were painted with sun-glow

as the sun slowly fell away

behind a ledge.

Tree gods

perched at the edges

of the circle of stones,

tying water

to sky.


Plunging sun

moved the colors around,

creating a new palette every few minutes.

And behind me,

a full moon.

Subtle light,

Gentle simplicity.

Satisfied and full of the impressions of the day,

I head back to the car

and out of the park.

The next morning I had to leave…

but there’s always another trip.


  1. Wow, Lynn, these images are superb. I love all of them. The silhouettes are so dramatic, but so are they all! Just beautiful work. Lemony Gregg (WP as Lemony Shots) uses the Lumix G3 too. It must be a really fine little camera. Of course, with Leica glass… I loved this post! 🙂


      • He’s great, Lynn. A painter of photos! Thanks for the link. I may buy one of the G series. The only reason I hesitate is my tremor. I need a heavier, bigger body with a heavy lens. It’s easier to stabilize if you can hold the camera with your whole hand. I followed this guy. I will enjoy seeing his photography, I know. 🙂


      • That’s terrific! It IS pretty small. I have a tendency to shake the camera with every press of the shutter button. Especially when I’m excited! It’s great when I can remind myself to really make an effort to hold still and press the shutter deliberately. And if I had a bit of a tremor I guess it would be harder. Anyway, I’m glad you like John’s work – and he lives in a really photogenic part of the world, too.


  2. Thanks for showing me the beauty of this park. Back around ’91, I was there when visiting a bunch of in-laws. I never had a chance to truly appreciate this wonderland with a quick drive and too much chatter….


  3. Lynn,
    These are amazing. I have always wanted to go to Joshua Tree. It reminds me in some ways of the Utah desert, but the colors are different. And these photos are beautiful and so very different from your wonderful shots of the green and moist Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed the post very much.


  4. I found my way here via my dear friend Christine from Dadirri, and I’m so glad. The Joshua Tree has long been on my bucket list and your amazing photos have made it even more tempting.


  5. Oh Lynn what an awesome travel book you could create from your trips. I would be proud to have a collection of your photos, enhanced and brought to life with your words. I can just see it on my coffee table now! 🙂


  6. You make the bouldering landscape so mighty BB with your pictures honestly they are wonderful . Really feel I’m there .
    Love that opuntia cool blue-green super spiny cactus .. in a I’ll -be- careful- touching- you – kind of way 😉


  7. Wow Lyn, you really did catch the sublime simplicity of this stunning part of the world! I know it’s only so far from LA but what a magnificent world of its own. And how exciting to finish the tour with that full moon shining on you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s