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Joshua Tree National Park Again

Joshua Tree Part Deux

I had the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree National Park again, almost 1 year after my first visit.  I was really excited to go and, as a real photographer, started thinking about the shots I missed last time and the shots I wanted to get this time.  And since this trip was planned months ago, what was planned and what actually happened were two different things.

The significant change was that my husband, Ron, couldn’t go, so I took Amtrak to SoCal and hitched a ride to the park with Dennis and Beth (my brother and sister-in-law) in their motorhome.  And why is this significant? Because I didn’t have my own transportation to effect that shot list.  As I prepared to pack all of my camping AND camera gear in one huge suitcase, my shot list got significantly pared down.  I wasn’t disappointed and I’ll tell you why.

A Real Photographer and…?

When we’re out and about doing mundane things, like grocery shopping, and I have to resort to using my cell phone to capture an unexpected photographic moment, my husband has a joke; a real photographer wouldn’t miss that shot, a real photographer would always have their camera with them, a real photographer…well, you get the idea. I am a real photographer.  I am also a wife, mother, sister, auntie, cousin (and every possible iteration of a cousin – love a big family!), and friend.

On this trip, I went to Joshua Tree as a sister and auntie first. My whole, immediate family was there and I was sans car.   I wandered off on foot a few times, but I wanted to be with my family, wanted to just sit around and chat, wanted to help prepare and eat all the good food.  I wanted to enjoy Joshua Tree as a sister and auntie first.  In this case, I saw Joshua Tree, hiked Joshua Tree, spent valuable time with my family in Joshua Tree.  I took photographs and recorded the event and didn’t feel at all guilty or bad that I missed the good light or other fabulous photographic opportunities. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get great photos!

Giving Myself a Pass

In the past, I felt guilty or bad about wasted, photographic opportunities.  Slept too late? Missed the sunrise.  Hiked all day? Too tired to care about the sunset.  In the wrong place for the golden hours after sunrise and before sunset? Shozbot!  I also felt guilty or bad about making my husband wake up at zero dark thirty to drive to the best sunrise spot, or give up precious vacation time to scout out the best locations, or rush an activity so that I can photograph a particular spot at a particular time.  But at some point, I gave myself a pass.

Yes, I am a real photographer. I am not always a photographer first, though.  When I travel alone, I am and can be a photographer first.  When I travel with others, I can’t be a photographer first.  I can’t set the agenda to suit only my needs.  Sharing and compromise are more important.  I am a vacationer/wife/sister/auntie/traveler/hiker/cycler/partner first.  And that’s okay.

A Real Photographer, Redefined

No one pays me to go to these beautiful places and photograph them.   I don’t have the luxury of going somewhere for an indefinite period of time to find the best spots and the best light and then wait for the best clouds to make an interesting sky, or for the fog to clear, etc.   When I travel, I am not traveling alone.  I am not a photographer first.  I most likely won’t get a photo that looks like it came from the pages of National Geographic.

I think part of being a real photographer is recognizing when photography comes first and when other things come first.  Recognizing this is akin to recognizing that when a scene doesn’t look good through the viewfinder, don’t bother pressing the shutter.  It took me a long time to trust that my eye and instincts were correct.  And it has taken a good long while to put photography in its proper place.

Being a real photographer is recognizing the photographic opportunities in front of you at any given time.  A real photographer is flexible and works with what they’ve got. A real photographer is constantly learning and improving techniques, when the conditions are perfect and when they’re not.  This real photographer knows that photos of family are far more precious than any photo that might grace the pages of National Geographic.

Okay, So What About Joshua Tree?

Alright, alright.  I’m getting to that.  We went to Joshua Tree over a long, winter weekend.  It’s not a mistake, but it is problematic; for weather, reservations, and parking.

My brother-in-law Dave is the master of reservations.  Dave is on it.  He knows when to make them, how to make them, and when to modify them.  So with Dave’s expert guidance,  we all got reservations for spots right next to each other.  This is important because we’re kind of noisy and nosy and all up in each other’s business.  But, Ron couldn’t go, so I gave up my reservation and someone snatched it up rather quickly.  This put interlopers between our campsites.  We rather enjoyed the interlopers.  They were friendly and shared food.  Awesome neighbors.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. The weather was perfect! I feared cold days and freezing nights since it was the middle of January.  Instead, we had warm-ish days (just right for hiking!) and cool nights and mornings. I don’t have a single photo from Friday.  Shrug.

On Saturday, we went hiking.  ALL of us!  A rowdy group of nine; hogging the trails, yammering, shouting, hooting, and of course me, always lagging behind because there’s always another fab photo op.  We hiked the Barker Dam loop and the Wonderland Ranch/Wall Street Mill trail.



Did I Mention the Food?

Dennis got a camping cookbook for Christmas.  Not just any camping cookbook, he got The New Camp Cookbook:

I had no idea my brother was a gourmet cook!  We enjoyed several gourmet meals from this cookbook.  Did I get a photo of any of them? Nope. It wasn’t because the light was bad, or I didn’t have my camera with me.  Nope. Nope. Nope.  It was because a completely-distracted-by-beautiful-food real photographer was too busy eating and tasting to remember to take a photograph.  Shozbot!  Maybe next time.  But I can tell you that Chai-spiced oatmeal with cinnamon apples was super yummy.  The grilled flank steak and fingerling potatoes with chimichurri were fabulous.  A breakfast of tex-mex scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, tomatoes and chiles were outstanding, especially when my awesome brother, Dennis,  knows I am a hot chile wimp and made the jalapenos super mild at great effort.

The Mafia Invaded Our Campsite

After a fabulous dinner of which there are no photographs, all of us hung out in front of Chris and Jeff’s travel trailer.  And by all of us, I mean all of us plus Kyle and Lettie, who came for an overnight visit.  Jeff is the barmaster and made sure everyone had something to warm them from the inside.  To say we were relaxed is a bit of an understatement.

My nephew Aidan started a game of Mafia.   We love this game!  Aidan is often the moderator, and he does a great job.  He’s funny and witty and a master of accents.  We played for quite awhile, in which Beth, against the odds, kept drawing a Mafia card and killed the rest of us off, game after game.  She’s ruthless, that one.  We played again on Sunday night.  This time, everyone, including my cousin John who came for an overnight visit, invaded Dennis and Beth’s motorhome.  And this time, Chris kept drawing a Mafia card and killed us off, game after game. He’s ruthless too.  Ten people, in a motorhome, playing Mafia.  Do I have any photos of either game?  Nope.

Ryan Mountain Hike

On Sunday, six of us hiked Ryan Mountain. This is where a busy weekend affects parking.  We drove two trucks to the parking area and the lot was full!  My sister Clarice, always clever and imaginative, had the bright idea of accosting greeting people as they were just getting off the trail and walking with them to their car so we could snag their spot.  I can honestly say this is a great way to not only get a parking spot but meet some neat people as well!  It worked for us twice! We recommended this technique to others who were flummoxed with the parking situation.

Ryan Mountain is a popular hike, and it’s a bit tough.  It’s short (3 miles round trip) but steep (over 1000′ elevation gain in about a 1.5 miles).  It’s a really nice hike and when you reach the peak, the views of Joshua Tree are well worth a bit of huffing and puffing.


There’s A Foster’s Freeze in Joshua Tree???

I wish!  It’s not at the top of Ryan Mountain, that’s for sure.  Foster’s Freeze is in Twentynine Palms.  I’ve been there before.  I’m all for hard work and rewards. We also stopped at the Mara Oasis Visitor Center so my nephew Liam could be sworn in as a Junior Ranger.  A momentous occasion, indeed! Of which, I have no photos.  I’m hanging my head in shame and rethinking the real photographer thing.

When we got back to camp, we got wrapped up in dinner, dessert and playing Mafia again.  It was a great weekend; good food, good times, lots of laughs, great weather, parking lot luck and ice cream.  We had such a great time as a family, I don’t feel bad at all for experiencing the weekend first and being a real photographer second.

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