Joshua Tree’s Magical Landscape

Joshua Tree National Park in California is very different from the New Jersey Pine Barrens where I do most of my landscape photography. This dry, barren desert landscape is an interesting juxtaposition to the lush forests and wetlands of the Pines. The Park’s odd little Joshua Trees that aren’t really trees, and those otherworldly rock formations are somehow irresistible to a photographer used to wading through wet swamps and finding compositions in overgrown forests. It is why we keep going back.

Joshua Tree by Moonlight and Twilight

To astrophotographers, the dark skies of Joshua Tree National Park under a new moon are a treat. To me the park lit by moonlight is more interesting. The eerie light of the moon make this otherworldly landscape even more alien.

Photographing by moonlight can be like photographing on a sunny day. Moonlight may not be as bright, but it can still cast harsh shadows. (Note the first two photographs below) The trick is to position yourself where the shadows are minimal or will work in your favor.

On this trip I also photographed moonlight mixed with early morning twilight. Since the sun rises in the east while the moon is in the west, the twilight can help even out the light and lessen the shadows while adding a mix of warm colored light to the cold blue light of the moon. The last three photographs in this group are examples of mixing moonlight and twilight.

Moon Light In Joshua Tree, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Ryan Ranch By Moonlight 4 by Richard Lewis 2018


Moonlit Rocks, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Desert Car Trails, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Joshua Tree With Moon, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Fallen Joshua Tree by Moonlight, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Twisted Tree By Moonlight, California 2023


Magic Light in Joshua Tree

One morning I decided to get a later start since the forecast was for heavy cloud cover at sunrise. I was sitting in the living room of our rented house with the blinds drawn (big mistake) when my wife ran out of the bedroom to tell me the sky was exploding with color outside. I called that one wrong and didn’t have time to drive into the park. Fortunately I had a drone. It is illegal to fly a drone in a national park, but it is not illegal to fly just outside it. At least there were no restrictions where we were staying. This photograph may not have an epic foreground, but it still shows the sky at its peak and the landscape at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park.

Rocky Sunrise, California by Richard Lewis 2023


One afternoon we went to photograph the sunset. The actual sunset was not much to speak of because the clouds obscured it. Showing up early allowed us to take advantage of some amazing light that happened when the late afternoon sun broke through the clouds.

Extreme Desert Light, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Late Day In Joshua Tree, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Joshua Tree at its Best

Our last morning in Joshua Tree was amazing. It had rained the night before and I awoke to scattered showers and a very cloudy sky. The forecast called for clearing skies around sunrise so I headed to the park and was treated to some of the most magical skies I’ve ever seen. The photographs below are in chronological order showing how these unusual fast moving clouds were catching the muted early sunlight before and during sunrise.

Retreating Desert Storm 1, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Retreating Desert Storm 2, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Retreating Desert Storm 3, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Stormy Morning, California by Richard Lewis 2023


Those dramatic morning clouds had disappeared after sunrise, but the light was still beautiful. I hiked up a small rise to capture this final scene of a Joshua Tree forest.

Morning Sun And Shadows, California by Richard Lewis 2023

So what is a New Jersey Pine Barrens photographer doing in Joshua Tree National Park, again. There is something about this place that is as magical as the Pines. Of all the National Parks, I seem to have bonded with this one deeply. Plus this park never ceases to provide enough magic to keep me coming back. You can see my work in Joshua Tree by searching the various posts it in this blog and in this gallery.