MORE THAN JUST PARKS

For some, Joshua Tree National Park is a haven, for others it is a playground of ancient boulders and endless desert, and for still others it is simply a place of wonder and natural beauty. But in reality it is all that and much more.

At More Than Just Parks, we took a trip to Joshua Tree in January 2015. In reality, it was a return trip for my brother Will and me, as we had already spent a short day there a year earlier. However, this was to be a very different trip.


It is said that the park's eponymous trees were named by Mormon settlers who were reminded of a biblical story in which Joshua stretches his hands up to heaven in prayer. This story resonates especially in the evening when one can stretch the arms of a Joshua tree upwards in anticipation of the setting sun. This scene, which plays out over and over again in the park every evening, continues to inspire people who travel from all corners of the world to visit this fascinating place.


As I said, we made our journey in January 2015. When we first reached the park's main road and turned off at a junction, there was still snow on the ground from a major winter storm that had hit the southwest in the days before we arrived. This was the same unannounced winter storm that we had driven through in a 37-hour marathon drive across the country to reach Joshua Tree.



Over the following nights and days, the last snowy remnants of our gruelling journey melted away, leaving behind the desert-like park we had expected. On our third night, we were rewarded with the howling and howling of coyotes that surrounded the campsite. Some of them approached our campsite stealthily, which could only be seen by the reflection of the campfire in their eyes.

After a few days of familiarising ourselves with the park and its features, we realised that clouds, precious clouds whose graceful movements we welcome, would be out of the question for this More Than Just Parks outing. In time-lapse photography, clouds can add an extra element of movement and vibrancy to otherwise perhaps less vibrant shots.
On this adventure, however, it seemed that our old ally in the sky would not be available. In his absence, we stepped up our night photography and scoured the park for interesting wildlife. This added an extra element of exploration and adventure to our trip.

After days of rabbit hunts and rock scrambles and cold nights of coyote howls and never-ending timewasters, we began to gather evidence of a desert teeming with life. If you spend a three-hour visit to this park looking for wildlife, you'll find little more than a few scattered cactus wrens and the occasional raven. Stay a week or more, however, and you will find that the wildlife is numerous, ubiquitous and aware of your presence - true masters of camouflage.


For me, the boulders in Joshua Tree, perhaps even more than the Dr Suess-esque trees, are the most striking aspect of the park. These colossal masses of rock are seemingly everywhere, scattered in huge piles and stacks like the extra Lincoln boulders of a giant. Finely polished by the sands of time, they form strange shapes and figures. We had the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with these boulders, recognising that they are central to the recording of all that Joshua Tree has to offer.



On a bouldering expedition we climbed, scrambled, grabbed and jumped from boulder to boulder to film a lone bighorn sheep on a high pile of huge rocks. I assure you that this was no easy feat with no real climbing experience and over 30 pounds of filming equipment in your hands and on your back.


Still, it was quite a thrill (often in a rather scary way). And after three such expeditions on different days, we finally got some bighorn footage. Was it worth it? I say yes, but only because I am still alive and all my limbs are still securely attached.



Joshua Tree is an incredible place that takes more than a few hours on a park road to experience. I highly recommend visiting the park and experiencing some of the best the desert has to offer. Luckily, I'm a filmmaker and I don't have to rely on my words to convince you. Watch our short film and get an idea of what you can experience on a trip to Joshua Tree.

 
Jim Pattiz is co-founder of More Than Just Parks
Read more: morethanjustparks.com

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