The Joshua Tree
by Shawna Black

We left Encinitas around 8 pm on a Friday night. We attempted to get on the road earlier but it just didn’t happen. Considering traffic, it most likely wouldn’t have mattered had we left any earlier that afternoon. We made the trip in my black Mazda 323 hatchback extraordinaire. And we were on a mission: photograph the absolute best landscape for our assignment.

Kathy and I were taking the same class: Advanced Black and White Photography. When the landscape assignment came up, we decided we had to get out of the city and find something cool. North San Diego County didn’t have much open land as development was never ending and the only open space to be found was at the beach or Camp Pendleton. And who wanted to see another beach shot? Not us. How boring.

We decided to go to Joshua Tree. North on the 5, to 78 East, north again on 15, then hit the 10 and go right. Three hours later, we followed the signs to one of the park’s entrances. Joshua Tree is in the middle of the high dessert and there’s not much there but weird trees and big rocks. At least that’s how it looked 18 years ago. Who knows how close the golf course grass grows to the edge of the park now.

It was dark. Very, very dark. Not a light in sight. No moon that night. We decided to take a look around. We drove. As we came upon the Joshua trees, the car’s headlights were shining into those strange looking trees and the light gave the trees an eerie lifelike quality. We were mesmerized. It was one of the most awesome sights either one of us had ever seen.

We wanted to be awake before sunrise and decided it was time to stop for the night. We found a small parking lot that clearly stated “no overnight parking” and slept in the car. Just before sunrise, we were startled awake by a park ranger who promptly ticketed us for parking in an area that clearly stated “no overnight parking”. We thanked the ranger for waking us before the sun came up and decided it was time to find our landscapes and start pushing our shutter buttons.

We drove through the desert, through the Joshua trees, down the highway with the car’s headlights beaming through these oddly shaped trees that looked very surreal. We found our spot, pulled off to the side of the road and waited for the sun to come up as we fixed our tripods and loaded our film. At some point, as the sun was rising, I ran back to the car, opened all of the windows, threw U2’s Joshua Tree in the tape deck, turned the volume up full blast and spent the next hour photographing Joshua trees in Joshua Tree State Park listening to U2’s Joshua Tree album. I’m not sure how they did it, but U2 captured the feeling of a Joshua Tree with that album. Or maybe I captured the feeling of U2 in Joshua Tree…. Whatever it was, it was powerful.

Later that afternoon, we found a camp ground in which to legally pitch our tent and stay the night. We happened upon some other campers who generously shared their beer with us. We spent the next few hours sitting at the picnic table at our camp with a couple of guys we didn’t know, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. It was dark except for our campfire. I have no recollection of what we ate the whole time we were in the desert except for the diner we stopped in on our way out of Joshua Tree. Funny the things we remember, or choose not to. I do remember that we had a hell of time pitching that tent, though.

The next morning, we explored more of the park and came upon the phallic rock formations. Of course, we had to stop and photograph them. We laughed our asses off at those rocks. The rock climbers there that day looked at us like we were idiots.

So, I have two photographs today; a tree and a couple of rocks.

The tree shot is a classic Joshua tree. I shot this photo as the sun was rising and the shadows that were cast are kinda cool. Now, go find your U2 cd and play Where the Streets Have No Name really loud while staring at this picture… Can you feel it? No? Well, maybe you had to be there.

Next up we have what I call Penis Rock. Do you see the phallic resemblance? Surely you do. Other than the resemblance to the male anatomy, which still makes me laugh, I like the details and the light and shadow in this image.

That’s it for today, kids. Next week, tune in for more portraits. Right now, I gotta go listen to Running To Stand Still.



Shawna may or may not have found what she's looking for.

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Isn't it amazing what memories a photograph can stir up - both the ones we choose to remember and those that we are fuzzy with the details on. I love finding old photos! Beautiful shot of Joshua Trees - they look like bony fingers reaching up to the sky!


I love this post. Great Joshua Tree shot.


Great, now I have to thumb scroll through my iPod and find The Joshua Tree...just as soon as Head Like a Hole ends.


Sweet pics.


Thanks everyone. These pictures are some of my all time favorites. I wish I had access to a darkroom so I could print more of them. I considered buying an enlarger and the stuff to go along with it, but I wonder how long the photo companies will keep making photo paper? Surely one day it will stop being manufactured...


Awesome shots!


thanks seetwist!

I keep thinking that says Sweetest. and if you're one of us, that just can't be right.


Beautiful work. I always wanted to spend a day out on Pearblossom Highway and do something like this.


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