Joshua Tree

November 30, 2016

13,000 miles.  4 months on the road.  1 final location left, Joshua Tree National Park.

I soon realized that Victorville California was on the way to Joshua Tree, of course I had to stop.  If you remember my California Coast blog post, I was spending 16 hours a day stuck in my car watching YouTube videos.  I had gotten hooked on the On Cinema series.  The most current season actually "took place" in Victorville California, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the new theater.

It was great to see that random building they used for the intro shot as well as the "new theater" which had 4 bums sleeping outside the main entrance.  It was clearly long abandoned.  Very exciting.

From there I continued on to Twentynine Palms California.  Just before I was going to head into the park, I got an important email.  I had just completed my first professional print sale to a hospital back in Youngstown!  I quickly turned around and headed to the Twentynine Palms library.  From there I was able to upload the images and finalize the order.  After a quick bite to eat I returned to Joshua Tree National Park.

I arrived at the perfect time.  The setting sun looked brilliant contrasted against the Joshua Trees.  Everywhere I looked I saw potential photos, it was overwhelming.  I decided to just drive through the park, stopping occasionally to get some photos.  I needed to scout out the area for my Milky Way photos as well.

Joshua Tree Joshua Tree Desert Rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Trees at sunset Desert at twilight Desert Sunset

As the color began to fade from the sky and faint stars became steadily brighter, I noticed a climber trying to navigate his way down a rock face in the dark.

Climber in Joshua TreeA climber starts his descent

Now it was time to really get to work.  I had seen so many fantastic Milky Way photos taken here.  I couldn't wait to get shooting.

Things did not work out as well as I hoped.  

First problem: it was the end of Milky Way season.  During the summer the Milky Way is high in the sky all night long.  In the Fall, the Milky Way core falls below the horizon fairly quickly.

Second problem: Light Pollution.  The Milky Way was in a heavily polluted area of the sky, to the South-West.  If I had been here in the Spring, the Milky Way would have been in the much darker South-Eastern sky.  This was a major problem.

The image below shows how bad the situation was.  You can see the core of the Milky Way very low on the horizon and the blinding light pollution obscuring the galaxy.
Light Polluted Sky
For comparison, here's an image taken earlier in the year, at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  As you can see, there was almost no Light Pollution there, making for a fantastic image.

Dark sky I still was able to get a few decent photos, but nothing like I had hoped to capture.

Desert at night Milky Way at Joshua Tree Joshua Tree Silhouettes Milky Way over Joshua Tree National Park

Since this was my final night in the desert, and essentially the last night of my roadtrip, I ventured deep into the desert.  Eventually I found a 4-wheel drive road leading off even deeper into the desert.  What the heck, my car has survived some insane situations, it can handle one last adventure.

The sand was very soft and I realized this was a flood basin, it looked like it had been flooded out not too long ago.  After about 5 minutes of driving I decided to stop and get out to enjoy the dark sky.

Self Portrait

All alone, again.  I couldn't believe the trip was finally over.  I remembered how different things felt during the first week of this journey.  I had no idea what I was doing back then.  Everything had changed.  

My main goal on this trip was to get out into the wilderness and take amazing photos.  What I didn't realize, was just how much impact the people I met along the way would have.  I met so many wonderful people who changed the course of my trip and with whom I shared some of my fondest memories.  I'm so grateful to have met such great people in my travels.  Alan, Amanda, Marek, Emma, Nancy, Andrew, Sierra, Mo, Jareth, Laura, John, Joe, Brenda, Grace, Madison, Raegan, Jackson, Chelsea, Sarah, Armanda, Thomas, Nicky, Chris, Gracie, Peter, Taylor, Tifanie, Lonnie, Cassandra, Anita, Brooke, Megan, Nick, Richard, Arnaud, and so many others.  

Hiking down a mountain, camping together in the mountains, couchsurfing, exploring Durango, hanging in WOBVille, enjoying the hotsprings, photographing the stars over Maroon Bells, stargazing in Grand Tetons, drinking delicious Huckleberry drinks at the bar, playing fetch on the shore of Jackson Lake, watching a sunset along the shores of Saint Mary Lake with fellow Instagrammers, meeting dozens of talented photographers at the 100th anniversary of the National Parks,  camping in the National forest for a night and then hiking up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook with an amazing dinner to top it off, exploring Astoria and the Oregon coast, hiking in the Hoh rainforest and stargazing at Rialto Beach, couchsurfing and hanging with the cute puppies, an incredible hike up a mountain near sunset, night photography at Palouse Falls, finding crazy mushrooms around Corvallis, to name just a few memories with the people I met.

I had started this journey as a struggling, no-name photographer, but over the past 4 months I've made some good progress.  I was featured on the Grand Teton National Park's Facebook, I had a photo featured by the US Department of the Interior, featured by Columbia Sportswear, featured by Mountain Safety Research, I was offered a spot to hang my work at the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center for the 2017 year, and I made my first professional print sale.

As I looked at the stars for the final time, I thought back to all the special nights I spent in the wilderness.

Great Sand Dunes Milky Way Great Sand Dunes Medano Creek at NightGreat Sand Dunes - Medano Creek Tent in the Sand DunesCamping on the Sand Dunes ShiprockA Full Moon night at Shiprock Cowboy CampingCowboy Camping in the North Cascades Milky Way over Rocky MountainsThe Milky Way over Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

I was surprised my car had survived the trip.  I had driven down so many horrible forestry roads, 4-wheeling roads, and desert sand "roads" that my car should never have been on.  It was a miracle the car was still in one piece.  Before this trip I never cared about it, it was simply a tool to get me from A to B.  But on the roadtrip it had become my home and my shelter.  If a bad storm was rolling through, I knew I would be safe inside.  If I had no where to camp, I could always spend the night in the car (even though it was incredibly uncomfortable).  Even if I had to bang the headlight to make it turn on, and the interior lights no longer worked, and it was completely filled with gear, it had become my home on wheels.

Looking ahead, I want to explore the deserts of the southwest, explore Iceland, New Zealand, and Alaska.  The past 4 months have proven just how vast America is.  Even living as a nomad, constantly on the move, there is an overwhelming amount of places to visit.  If I can find a way to shower more frequently on the road, and sleep more comfortably in my vehicle, I would love to continue the traveling photographer lifestyle.

I stare up into the night sky one last time.  The trip had finally come to an end.

Milky Way over Joshua Tree National ParkThe End

Head over to my Gallery to see all the photos from the roadtrip.

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