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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Joshua Tree, Ve-ry Pretty"

"A desert is a place without expectation" - Nadine Gordimer

Where no Honda has gone before...
It's interesting -- at least to me -- how things change as we grow older. As a teenager and young adult, I used to proudly proclaim that anything "outside a million metro population" made me nervous. It was my way of looking down my nose at small towns and, in particular, the desert. Small towns in the desert most specifically. 

This was largely, and unfortunately, due to the fact that my maternal grandparents lived well out into the desert outside of a town called Apple Valley. At the time it was a spot many miles off the beaten path, and this was an era before things like satellite and cable brought the world to our doorsteps. So, for me, a visit to my grandparents' house was often a lesson in a typical kid's boredom of "nothing to do". (And, being the imaginative kid that I was, the desert also represented a lot of scary things -- I had, at this point, seen enough old 1950s horror films, and more than a handful of episodes of The Twilight Zones and The Outer Limits (in which scary things lurked in the desert) to be more than just a bit nervous at things that went bump in the night. For some reason undoubtedly explainable by an electrical engineer, the only channel that came in even reasonably clearly was the one broadcasting reruns of those shows, reinforcing the desert's aura even that much more. 

Jim goes exploring
Things that go bump...

If you were to visit the old "Circle K Ranch" these days, you would wonder at it ever being remote. The city has, unfortunately, grown up around it, making the home's isolation a thing of the past. And at the same time, I too have grown in the opposite direction, finding an amazing and majestic beauty in the remote regions of the desert. I find the stark, unadorned landscape to be, in its own way, as beautiful as lush forests or dramatic seascapes -- while at the same time at a more rugged and spectacular scale than virtually any other setting. (If there are no trees, they do not block your view of the forest.)

Perhaps it's a result of ever-increasing pressure at my day job that makes the open isolation appealing to me. The desert affords a true getaway, a true escape from the workaday world. If your cellphone doesn't work, you have to just sit back and accept it. Railing against the lack of dial tone does little more than echo off the granite walls, or dissipate amongst the desert sage. There is a quiet serenity there. A lack of sound, even wind through the brush at times. How often are we in a wide open area with virtual silence as a companion. Not often, and not often enough. 

(Craig Fucile, one of the very best nature photographers in the Western U.S., once told me that the desert was one of his favorite places. And for good reason, as I now know. The night shot top right is a deliberate attempt to echo some of Craig's wonderful time-exposures of the Death Valley. I wish I had a website to refer you to. His work is outstanding, and he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.)

As usual, I digress.

This last weekend I took a weekend and went up to the Joshua Tree National Park with my desert travel buddy Jim, mentally convinced I'd never been there before. 

As Jim and I drove the roads and pathways of the park, however, something struck me as familiar, and not because other areas of the California desert look similarly -- quite the opposite, in fact. 

For years I have been trying to summon an idea of where I once hiked when I was a member of a local Boy Scout troop. The adult who headed our group was fond of the outdoors, and we would, on a regular basis, trek up into the Angeles Crest mountains or The San Bernardino Mountains, or, well, you get the point. 

But there was one very particular overnighter we took one long weekend which was through the middle of the desert. It was -- or must have been -- wintertime. I explicitly remember the night being particularly cold, both in our sleeping bags as well as in the army transports which the leader had managed to conjure for the trip to and from the desert.

It's this latter which gives me the biggest clue that I may have already been to Joshua Tree. You see, not only is the terrain quite vividly reminiscent in my memory, but the military transports -- such as those which would be used by the Marines at TwentyNine Palms Marine Base (directly north of Joshua Tree National Park). Given those two elements, it's entirely possible our troop leader took us on a hike through one of the many remote areas of the park. (There is even one trail marked as "Boy Scout Trail" -- so the clues are certainly lining up!). I am convinced, just shy of certainty, that Joshua Tree or something nearby, was the setting for that particular scout trip.

All that, of course, is prologue to this entry's photographs.

A trek into the isolated desert, for me, is a short duration thing. I have yet to venture up for more than a couple of days at any given time, and this does two things for me. First, I tend to be a reactive photographer. That is to say, I am sensitive to the surroundings and find my subjects rather than planning ahead for them. Some photographers will predetermine what they're going to shoot, and under what conditions. It works for them, but my eye is one which wanders around the landscape to pick what most interests me from a compositional standpoint. This is true whether I'm shooting in the desert or downtown Manhattan. For me the ideal is to go walkabout (driveabout in some cases) and let my eye fall on my next subject -- THEN I will determine how to shoot it and the intent behind the shot. 

In that regard, I'm a spontaneous photographer, which for some professionals in the field is a fault. I consider it an asset. Thus endeth the "Methodologies" seminar. (My blog, my rules.)

So please enjoy this short trip to Joshua Tree, and as always, thanks again for coming along to Share the Adventure

Welcome to Bedrock

(One final thing - I always love to visit local restaurants when I'm on the road, particularly those with terrific breakfasts. If you're in the town of Joshua Tree, or simply going through it to get to the park's main entrance, I highly recommend The Country Kitchen, which is near the corner of Highway 62 and Park Blouevard. Excellent food and a real homey cafe feel. Nothing fancy, just a "good eats" sort of place.)


  1. Jake -
    Thank you for visiting -- and we agree completely on the importance of a great travel agent! I hope we're giving you some good ideas of where you can go next!


  2. Thanks for sharing you thoughts about the desert and Joshua Tree. Which, I'm proud to say is my home. These days there's never a dull moment. Especially in the Village of JT every weekend seems to be packed with music events, gallery crawls, theme parties, yoga festivals or other events to raise awareness and funding for conservation efforts by one of the many active groups in the area. Was fun to hear about your childhood impressions of the desert. I'm sure many people share those same ideas, hammered in by popular media. Currently the desert is under attack by massive scale industrial renewal energy projects that will alter the fragile desert for many generations to come. I'm hoping that more desert enthusiasts take an active role in friending out more about these issues and take an active role in creating the best solution. A good place to start is by looking up the DRECP. I especially liked your comment "The desert affords a true getaway, a true escape from the workaday world." Hopefully we can preserve this aspect without significantly altering the landscape for short term solutions.

  3. Thomas
    Thank you for reading and posting to the blog, you're a welcome guest. Let me say how much I've fallen in love with the town and region you call home. We -- my friend Jim and I -- had a really fun time exploring the park and town, and plan to come back at some point in 2013. I completely agree with your concerns about development. I know we have to balance our energy needs against the environment (and the environment often loses), but Joshua Tree in particular is an important part of our nation's environmental heritage. The massive development out near where I15 crosses into Nevada is already an eyesore, and is, as you note, completely altering the desert.

    We need to fight to keep these palces pristine, otherwise people like you and me will have no place left to escape the world when we need it.

    Thanks again for visiting. Hope to see you around on a regular basis.