Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Joshua Tree National Park

with 34 comments

We spent a good part of November 5th two years ago at Joshua Tree National Park in the desert of southern California. The first picture shows you a picturesque wall of boulders there. The reddish-brown growths occupying the bare branches in the foreground are desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum.

Here’s a closer look at some boulders:

Smaller details also caught my attention:

Oh yeah, we did see some Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park:

By the time we drove out the southern entrance of the park, the sun had already set.
Even so, I stopped to photograph a creosote bush, Larrea tridentata:

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2018 at 4:38 AM

34 Responses

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  1. Looks like a good place to be; fine shots; last shot is excellent. See you.


    November 5, 2018 at 5:54 AM

    • It was a good place to be, although crowded, because daytime temperatures there in November had finally dropped from torrid to warm and were tolerable for most tourists.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 7:39 AM

  2. We have a plate into which the form of a creosote bush was impressed when the clay was wet. Love the smell of rain in the desert, much of it is from the creosote.


    November 5, 2018 at 6:21 AM

    • I like that desert creosote smell too. It takes a drive of a few hundred miles west from Austin to get into creosote country, which then continues to California.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 7:43 AM

  3. The creosote sunset was perfect on the timing, color layers. Did you use fill-in flash on the foreground? Or was that ambient light? Beautiful, Steve.


    November 5, 2018 at 7:08 AM

    • I checked the metadata and confirmed that I didn’t use flash on this picture. In some others I’ve posted, it’s more apparent that I did. Here’s one from a different desert at about the same time of day where I used flash:


      In fact that picture was from early in the outward-bound stage of the same trip, which took us as far as central California and some very different climates, as you saw in several recent posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 7:52 AM

  4. The trees are so unusual, I am sorry I never got to visit that park. Love the final photo – great soft layers of colour – and is it really called a creosote tree? I wonder if it smells like creosote.


    November 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM

  5. Beautiful landscape, love the Joshua Tree capture!


    November 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM

    • I hadn’t realized till this trip that Joshua trees start out so linear, like the two in the lower left of the photograph. You’d hardly know they’re the same species as the big one that dominates the image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 7:35 AM

  6. Because of the sun’s apparent movement at this time of year, I see the Belt of Venus at sunrise, and tend to forget that it’s also a sunset phenomenon. It’s beautifully shown in your last photo, and helps to explain why the creosote bush is so nicely lighted — the sun would have been behind you, casting the earth’s shadow onto the sky.

    You answered the question I had about that ‘other’ plant in the photo of the Joshua tree. I did think it was a different species. The juxtaposition of the two life stages is great. When I was over at the Sandylands sanctuary, I learned that the longleaf pine does much the same thing. Rather than rapidly growing upward, like the loblollies, young longleaf pines look for all the world like a clumping grass, and stay that way for several years before beginning their growth spurt.

    ‘Desert mistletoe’ sounds like an oxymoron. Clearly, I’ve made some assumptions about mistletoe that aren’t warranted.


    November 5, 2018 at 9:02 AM

    • I purposely didn’t mention the Belt of Venus so you’d have an opening to bring it up. Sunrise or sunset, I don’t often see it at home, where we don’t have an uncluttered vista. An expanse of desert, in contrast, offers an excellent view.

      I have esthetically more successful photographs of young Joshua trees by themselves and mature Joshua trees in their own right. I went with the combination picture to contrast the oh-so-different different looks of the two stages. I didn’t know that there’s a similar disparity in the young and old longleaf pines.

      The first photograph is proof that at least some mistletoes can survive in the desert. It’s not clear whether the desert mistletoe contributed to killing its host tree or if the tree is merely dormant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 9:18 AM

  7. Wow, you really saw some of the most compelling flora of California. I did not see a Joshua tree until I was in college. They are not easy to grow outside of their native range.


    November 5, 2018 at 9:25 AM

    • I think the first Joshua trees I photographed on the 2016 trip were at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just west of Las Vegas. Then I took pictures of a few more about 30 miles into California along I-15 near the town of Baker. Finally that afternoon I got some good Joshua tree photos near Barstow. By the time we reached Joshua Tree National Park two weeks later, I was primarily interested in things other than Joshua tree—primarily, but of course not entirely.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 9:53 AM

  8. In that first shot, the whole affair appears to be poised to crash down on your head. Step under the mistletoe and get a big smack from a falling boulder.
    Even though their branches are a bit sparse, there’s something appealing about the tracery of the creosote bush branches.

    Robert Parker

    November 5, 2018 at 10:19 AM

    • You raise an interesting question: has anyone standing in that area ever been hit by a suddenly dislodged boulder? Let’s hope not.

      I’m with you in finding an appeal in the tracery of the creosote bush branches. I’ll bet someone could turn that loose pattern into wallpaper or another artistic creation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 10:32 AM

  9. Looks beautiful and different. The last shot is magical.


    November 5, 2018 at 1:17 PM

    • That last picture has become the star of the show. The American deserts are indeed magical places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 1:45 PM

  10. Very interesting. Lovely photos. I’d never heard of a creosote bush before. Would like to visit one day. A very iconic place. I always think of the U2 album!


    November 5, 2018 at 1:33 PM

  11. Gorgeous pictures 🙂 I really need to get out to Joshua Tree, I can’t believe I’ve lived in SoCal for almost 10 years and haven’t been!

    M.B. Henry

    November 5, 2018 at 4:53 PM

    • Yes, it’s high time for you to go out there. Now is a good time because the afternoon temperatures aren’t brutal anymore.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2018 at 4:56 PM

  12. That last images is art! Beautiful .. Super photos Steve


    November 10, 2018 at 12:25 PM

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