My First Trip to the Desert


It’s been a while since I’ve even held my Nikon, but this new west coast environment has me feeling pretty inspired lately. Night photography has always been one of my favorite subjects and with the New Moon this week it was a perfect excuse to escape the LA light pollution and head out to Joshua Tree National Park.


So I drove to the Southern California desert, by myself. Something I’ve never done before. I’ll admit, I was pretty sketched out by the idea of wandering into the middle of the desert at night all alone to take some photos of the stars (there are scorpions and tarantulas out there!) but I was equally excited for a new solo adventure.

I stayed at the historic Pioneertown Motel about 30 minutes outside the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s totally secluded and rustic, and surrounded by absolutely incredible desert landscape. Check out their Instagram I’ll definitely be staying here again.

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When I bought my first Nikon in 2008 I quickly gravitated towards night photography. I’ve always been fascinated with astronomy so astrophotography seemed like a natural progression. I spent a lot of time back in New York at the Adirondacks and Lake Ontario experimenting with long exposures capturing the night sky and I always dreamed of seeing the Milky Way in the desert.


I was NOT disappointed! As soon as the sun set the stars appeared brighter and denser than I’ve ever seen. The Milky Way was completely visible to the naked eye. I spent some time on my Star Walk app locating difference planets and constellations and saw dozens of shooting stars. I can’t imagine what it must be like here during a meteor shower! The desert air was warm and calm, the only reminder of any other human existence was when the occasional plane passed overhead.


I woke up to roosters crowing just before sunrise. Not sure if they were wild or not, but it definitely beat my iPhone alarm. I sat in this sandy meadow and watched the sun rise over the mountains and was greeted by so many critters—lizards, bunnies, roadrunners, and even a family of coyotes!

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By 7:30am the sun was already starting to get hot so I packed up almost 2 gallons of water and my spf 100 and made my way to Joshua Tree. I arrived at the entrance around 8am and the temperature was steadily rising. Drop me off in a random spot in the middle of a snow covered mountain and I’m all good, but this expansive desolate area without shade—I was getting a little nervous. Jim convinced me to get a AAA membership before I left, but without cell reception it wouldn’t do me much good!


The deeper into the park I drove the more in awe and relaxed I felt. I’ve seen a ton of photos and always thought this place seemed pretty cool, but being here in person is such a surreal and indescribable experience. The landscape is so gnarly, ranging from vast stretches of endless Joshua trees, to enormous granite mountains, to these awesome rock formations. The longer I spent here the more it seemed like I was in a Dr. Seuss story, which was strangely comforting.