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
A cactus, warmed by late day sunlight:
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
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.
perched at the edges
of the circle of stones,
moved the colors around,
creating a new palette every few minutes.
And behind me,
a full moon.
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.