For landscape photography, online research only gets you so far. Sometimes you have to talk to the locals, and sometimes you just need to experience the area to identify the location to capture the best images. Joshua Tree National Park was no exception. Research indicated the best locations to shoot were (1) the “Hidden Valley” area for it contained the highest concentration of Joshua Trees in the park, and then the (2) Cholla Cactus Garden for its density of man-eating Chollas. We’ll leave that story for the next post. 

Upon entering the park, I made a quick stop to “talk to the locals”. I did a quick run into the visitor center to talk with the park ranger. The ranger was really helpful by confirming our plans and added that the Hidden Valley Trail was absolutely beautiful and well worth the time. Wow, a hidden valley full of Joshua Trees – it sounded amazing. 

Sure enough, as we approached the Hidden Valley, the density of the Joshua Trees increased. Joshua Trees spanned the plains as far as we could see in every direction. If you are not familiar with the Joshua Tree, it is of the Yucca family and grows in rather bizarre shapes with long leafy spikes on its arms.  In addition to theses fabulous shapes around us, there were beautiful granite hills adding texture to the landscape. 

Next up, we went to “experience the area” or what us photographers might refer to as “scouting for our shoot location”. The golden hour was fast approaching, so we hit the “Hidden Valley Trail” and scouted the 1.1 mile loop trail in record time. The granite boulders were beautiful and a couple pinion pine skeletons offered great scraggly tree photos, but we were in search of Joshua Trees and there were none! 

We’d been duped by the friendly ranger. We were led to believe that the Hidden Valley contained Joshua Trees. That would be logical, yes?  But I don’t think we saw one in the whole Hidden Valley. Thank goodness we scouted it – before hauling our gear out on a hike. Maybe it should be renamed to “Hidden Joshua Tree Valley.”

This was playing out the same way as our stop in Valley of Fire. We found ourselves back at the car, with golden hour upon us, and no clear place to shoot.

The heck with this, I grabbed my backpack of camera gear and tripod, I headed out onto the plains. I would bag me a Joshua Tree despite the ranger’s misdirection. 

Isolating a single Joshua Tree was easy. [Photo by Kathryn]

Photographing a single Joshua Tree was easy (just shoot up at the sky), but capturing the essence of the whole forest and the granite hills was nearly impossible. I needed to isolate the tree or it would blend in with its surroundings and the uniqueness of this cool tree was all but lost.

I loved the character of this huge, old tree, but the rock hills behind, took away from the full effect.

In the next photo the forest extends as far as you can see, and the clouds are poised to explode with color at sunset.

The clouds were ripe just before sunset for marvelous color. The forest extends as far as you can see.

However, the sky didn’t cooperate. It was definitely Valley of Fire redux. The clouds disappeared just before sunset taking away the opportunity to add color to the photograph. 

The color potential dissipated and this was all that was left. [photo by Kathryn]

Alas, in Hidden Valley, both the Joshua Trees and the skies of color remained just that, “hidden”. I did bag me a Joshua tree, but not quite the way I had hoped.

Remember, it’s all about the light and it wasn’t quite there for us.


By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward.


Kathryn and Jeff – Late afternoon in a sweeping landscape of Joshua Trees. [photo by Kathryn]