View Full Version : desert southwest USA

Bruce Watson
3-Jan-2005, 15:22
I've got an opportunity at the end of January to spend a few weeks hiking with my 4x5 kit in the desert southwest, between say L. A. and maybe as far east as Phoenix. I was thinking of spending up to a week in Joshua Tree N. P. with a side trip up to Death Valley, but the itinerary isn't firm yet.

I've got some ideas on hiking trails and things to point the camera toward, but it's always nice to get other folks' input. Anyone got a favorite trail, valley, mountain, pile of rocks, joshua tree, hanging fruit cholla, arroyo.... that they want to share???

Also, any favorite restaurants I should make an effort to visit? Gotta keep my wife happy too!

Thanks in advance for you input!

Gem Singer
3-Jan-2005, 15:38
No problem Hogarth,

Park your wife in a nice hotel, or resort in Palm Springs, and enjoy yourself hiking around the area looking for LF photo ops. From my experience, the best lighting in the desert is at dawn and at sundown. That way you can get an early start in the morning and have a base camp to return to at night. Excellent restaurants and accomodations in Palm Springs. Bring your credit card. Oh yes, check out the wind generators in the area. They are very photogenic.

Todd Schoenbaum
3-Jan-2005, 17:13
Death Valley and Joshua Tree are always nice this time of year, but it is also tourist season in the desert. Death Valley especially tends to have tourists leaving footprints all over the dunes.

Places I like:Salton Sea: interesting meth-lab watse land near Palm Springs and JT(especially Bombay Beach), also has a bird refuge at the south end of the "sea". I wouldnt touch the water though... and you may want to carry some form of protection out there.
highway 395: lots of interesting spots all along the way; alabama hills, Red Rock Canyon state park, Law's train museum in Bishop (this is one of my personal favorites), lots of old mining towns all along the south end of 395; stop and get a "phosphate" at the soda fountain in Randsburg.
Bodie: if you are feeling bold, I hear that Bodie Ghost Town is open in the winter, though the only way to get there is by CC skis or snowmobile. I imagine it is quite beautiful in the winter. Death Valley: There are of course the main dunes, but there are also less traveled dunes outside the east side of the park and at the north end of the park. The Charchol Kilns, up in the mountains of DV would also be quite nice in the winter, but I'm not sure if you can get there.

In the town at the North entrance to Joshua Tree, there is a cozy little resturaunt called the Crossroads Cafe. Its a good place to go for a beer at lunch while the light isnt so nice.

If you're heading east there's Valley of Fire SP(near LV), and Antelope Canyon (over-shot, but so beautiful, near Page AZ).

Celluloid and Silver (http://www.celluloidandsilver.com)

tim atherton
3-Jan-2005, 17:18
"Death Valley and Joshua Tree are always nice this time of year, but it is also tourist season in the desert. Death Valley especially tends to have tourists leaving footprints all over the dunes"

Which apparently is a bad thing?

John Kasaian
3-Jan-2005, 17:31
Try Las Consuelas in Palm Springs for the high octane maragritas;-) Shield's Date Gardens for circa 1920's roadside attraction charm(try the date milkshake!) When you're in Death Valley, see if the rangers know anything about the location of the wild celery canyon---I've never been able to find the place, but it sounds pretty cool

Eric Leppanen
3-Jan-2005, 17:43

Highway 190 between Furnace Creek and Death Valley Junction was washed out by flash floods late last year, meaning no access to Zabriskie Point, Dante's View, etc. This road is not expected to be re-opened until March or April. Badwater might be reachable via a roundabout route along Highway 178. More details are at www.nps.gov/deva/Morning.pdf. I was planning a Death Valley trip for January but may postpone until the road access gets better.

Joshua Tree is always good this type of year, Key's View might be particularly interesting due to all the snow we've gotten (view of Mt. San Jacinto). Sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden is a classic, although be VERY careful not to touch the cactus! It's very easy to get distracted with LF and lose track of where your feet are, I once had to use needle-nose pliers to get the thorns out of my ankle!

Todd Schoenbaum
3-Jan-2005, 17:45
" 'Death Valley and Joshua Tree are always nice this time of year, but it is also tourist season in the desert. Death Valley especially tends to have tourists leaving footprints all over the dunes'

Which apparently is a bad thing?"

It is certainly subjective, but one of my favorite things about the desert is the lack of people. And I have yet to see an attractive shot of sand dunes covered with empty soda bottles and hawaiian-shirt wearing tourists, but I guess that's just me :)

Dan Dozer
3-Jan-2005, 18:23

I have been a resident of the Palm Springs area (La Quinta) for about three years now. Since I moved here, I have only been able to do a limited amount of photography. It seems that since we got here, my wife has had a never ending list of "projects" for me to do with the new house - unfortunately, none of them involve cameras. However, I can assure that you will not run out of things to photograph in Joshua Tree. There are several tourist shops near the entry to the park and you can get plenty of guide books either there or at the visitor's centers. Eugene is right, light in the middle of the day can be pretty harsh here in the desert. However, you will be here in winter so the sun will be lower in the sky. One of my favorite locations is the Cholla Cactus Gargen in the early morning. The main road goes right through it so don't you even have to walk/hike to get there.

Even though I haven't photographed as much as I want here yet, I can probably give you lots of advice on "non-photographic" things to do here in the Coachella Valley to keep your wife happy.

- Palm Springs aerial tramway to the top of the mountain (pstramway.com). Note that there will most likely be snow at the top so if you go there, dress accordingly.

- Palm Springs Follies (psfollies.com)- live theater stage show in down town Palm Springs. Great show runs from December through end of May. All performers are over 50 years old with some in their 80's. Most are ex-vaudville stars and rocketts. However, it's getting somewhat expensive for tickets.

- Outlet shopping mall about 15 minutes west of Palm Springs. Huge outlet shopping area.

- The Living Desert (livingdesert.org) - wildlife zoo with desert animals from all over the world.

- Golf, Golf, Golf, and more golf. At last count, I believe that there are over 110 golf clubs here in the Valley. If you're here the last week in January, the PGA tour will be here for the Bob Hope Tournament.

- Spa resorts - there are plenty of them - can get pretty expensive. The La Quinta Resort Hotel and Spa is one of the larger ones - will probably be pretty expensive here.

- Hotels - The Marriott Desert Springs Resort has always been one of my favorites. Not sure what the rates will be because you will be here "in the high season".

- Casino Gambling - there are now 6 indian casinos either in the valley or very near by. If you are into gambling and want to know the rundown on each, let me know.

Regading the Arizona area, I've done some research into the western side of Arizona for photo ops. I haven't had a chance to go there yet but I found a website that might be of interest to you - the Arizona Outback Online at azoutback.com.

Drop me an E-mail if you want to talk more or are interested in getting together while you're here.

Jim Ewins
3-Jan-2005, 18:39
Per Volquartz is organizing a Gettogether in Joshua Tree starting Friday Jan 28 at 4pm at the Jumbo Rocks Campground. Perhaps I'll get to met you there. Jim

Jim Galli
3-Jan-2005, 20:18
I heartily recommend Per's workshop. Great fun. If you do make it to Death Valley (It is in-exhaustable by the way) one of my best shots was a 1/4 mile or so up Mosaic Canyon. The gorge does an "S" turn and if you get up above there is a glorious wide angle shot to be had. I did it with 75mm in 4X5 several years ago and if I return to the same spot I would probably do a 3 panel tryptich in 7X11 now. We're having a bit of a wet / harsh winter just now so who knows what you'll find in the desert this month. It's snowing in Tonopah just now.....messing up my driveway AGAIN!! Took me several hours to clear it yesterday. And it's butt cold.

Steve McKinney
3-Jan-2005, 21:08
Re: Footprints in Death Valley

Personally I prefer no footprints but it can be hard to find pristine dunes at Stovepipe Wells. So when life gives you lemons:


Love Death Valley by the way.

Joshua tree is very nice as well. Here's a shot in Lost Horse Valley:




matthew blais
3-Jan-2005, 21:13
I second Per's workshop and also, this place http://www.huntington.org/ (http://www.huntington.org/) which has 150 acre botanical gardens, statues, great buildings - an amazing place and they allow photogs w/tripods (except in the buildings). The Huntington is located in Pasadena (San Marino actually), NE of LA and west of Palm Springs. $15 admission-but worth it (IMHO).

Daniel Geiger
5-Jan-2005, 01:15
If you decide to go to Joshua Tree, also consider going from Twentynine Palms 1 h north to Amboy crater. It is an extinct volcano with all the black lava cone still out. There is silver grey Atriplex hymenolytra growing on the slopes, which makes out of this world contrast with the black pock marked lava, particulalry when side lit. Haven't been there in February, but March/April has been fine, May/June is blistering hot and only for serious desert enthousiasts.


Bruce Watson
5-Jan-2005, 09:09
Thanks to all for tips and pointers. I haven't found any scenic hiking trails through the desert, and wondered if I was missing something. Since no one is recommending any trails, perhaps there just aren't any - might be hard to maintain a trail in the desert. Hard to place the trail blazes, etc.

I'm dissapointed with not having access to Dante's View in DVNP. Any way around the road work - with a 4wd for example? Probably not, but it can't hurt to ask.

Ralph Barker
5-Jan-2005, 14:07
Hogarth, you might be able to access Dante's View from the back side (from Death Valley Junction), but the round trip would be a bit lengthy. I'd check with the Park service folks to be sure.

In Joshua Tree, there is a short trail to Barker Dam you might find interesting. Depending on how recently it has rained, you might actually find some water left behind the dam. The dam is partly visible at the mid-left here:


Steve McKinney
6-Jan-2005, 20:34

There are a series of books buy Falcon Guides called "Best Easy Day Hikes". You can pick them up at Barnes&Noble or Borders for about $7 each. They're availble for Death Valley and Joshua Tree. They're pretty good if your planning to spend a weekend at one of the parks.