Words and more words below, or skip to the bottom for the gallery.
I have a complicated relationship with Joshua Tree. It’s my least favorite national park for a few reasons. The first is that I feel like my weather relationship with JT is personal. Personal in that no matter how meticulous my planning is, the weather will be the exact opposite of what it’s allegedly “supposed to be” when I arrive.
Three times now I’ve gone out for the 2.5 hour drive, eyes trained on that vector of sky the whole way, rechecking the weather apps and geoweather trackers on my phone. Thunder, flash floods, thunder…. when I arrive: blue skies, not a cloud to be seen (except for over the Mojave Preserve 150 miles north east. It’s really frustrating.
The second is the park itself. It’s so sterile, so structured. Yes, it’s beautiful around the campsites but there’s no sense of exploration. It’s like the Disney of national parks. There’s even actual curbs on the sides of the road. I guess when you’ve been to Death Valley and been able to just wander off road and explore to your heart’s content, going to Joshua Tree is kind of a let down in the wilderness sense.
Such as my experience this week when I headed east to try to capture some lightning and “weather” as people in Southern California say it. I made the decision to head to JT instead of the Salton Sea/Anza Borrego as I had intended to do when I packed the car, puppy included, to head out. The risk of not knowing where to go when you have a set amount of time to shoot makes me nervous, and I know JT better than the Salton Sea.
Free time and afternoons off are an especially rare commodity in my life, as you may have noticed it’s been a minute since I mustered the energy to blog (or shoot, for that matter.) So it was an especially grave disappointment to get to JT and find clear skies. But I didn’t mind the drive out of the park to the east entrance, I had plenty of time to get to the Salton Sea to shoot sunset and explore around the mud pots. Except that’s when the third reason I hate JT struck: trapped for an hour 11 miles from the south east entrance because of construction. An hour.
Regardless of my frustrations, I was able to speed to the boat docks of the Salton Sea and capture the sunset just in time. The Salton Sea is a trip. In the 1950’s, seemingly unaware of what was happening in eastern Nevada/western California along the Colorado river, real estate barons and business moguls ventured to Salton and set up a beach town for the lush lake area that had been sitting unoccupied decades prior (since 1905, when the government accidentally flooded the Imperial Valley and the greater Salton lake bed while trying to get farmer’s more water for crops.) The result was a boom vacation town that was abandoned quickly thereafter when the water line was fixed and the lake turned salinic. Now, you have violently fluctuating salt levels and a 35 mile by 15 mile puddle that collects the surrounding area runoff and toxins. Hmmmmm, salted tilapia.
Salton is post-apocalyptic California, straight out of Borderlands/Fallout New Vegas. It’s hot, it smells bad, and it’s populated by some incredibly strange folks *enter banjo tune*. I cannot wait to go back.
The experience, while overall frustrating, did instill me with a renewed sense of exploration and urgency to shoot and Michele and I will be headed out to Trona this weekend to snap some pics. Looking forward to getting back out to the desert with my camera.