Sunrise at Joshua Tree

Sunrise photos require a certain amount of planning – ideally, you know the location already, and know where you want to be, or you scout the area a day in advance in daylight. Taking the time of year and thus, where exactly the sun will rise and which landscape features it will illuminate first into account is helpful too of course. If you arrive in the evening and it’s too late for some scouting, then you’ve got to work with whatever you can find – and that may not be much… :P

This is what happened when Shuwen and I went to Joshua Tree National Park – for the very first time of course, and then it had to be sunrise, too! What could possibly go wrong? :-)

We had arrived in Palm Springs the evening before and stayed there for the night. We rose early enough – this wasn’t too hard actually because the in-room AC unit made enough noise throughout the night to prevent any serious attempt of sleep – and had coffee and breakfast at Denny’s. Which was, I might add, an almost surreal experience. Breakfast at 4 AM in Germany? Maybe you’ll get a coffee and a danish at a gas station, if you’re lucky – but walking into a brightly lit diner where the personal acts and treats you as if this was a completely normal time of day was certainly interesting. (it actually opens up possibilities: as a photographer, being out and about [or back] at rather odd hours often, a nearby Denny’s restaurant makes a difference:-)

After breakfast we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, in the dark of course – and while on the road realized that we’d better stop and get out of the car because the light of dawn was beginning to show in the sky. Finding something to photograph against this sky though essentially meant stumbling around in relative darkness – a rather futile exercise when you don’t even know where you are exactly. We definitely were in a canyon, that much I could tell. Hills studded with rocks and boulders rose left and right. There was plenty of dry vegetation at this time of the year, but is there something interesting in the distance? Who knows?

It was a magical experience, nevertheless – the part of Joshua Tree we were in is high desert, and compared to the temperatures in Palm Springs it was surprisingly chilly. When the sun rose and light began to fill the shadows a warm breeze moved through the canyon, rustling some dry twigs and leaves – it was as if the landscape took a deep breath and awoke.

The sole photo that I came away with that morning (or rather, the only one I consider worth showing) is this. Opting to expose for the twilight sky, silhouetting the Joshua Trees against it was a safe bet for a photo that would at least have some appeal.

Later in the morning, we hiked the loop trail at Barker Dam, which was quite enjoyable – towards the end it got pretty warm of course. We were back at our hotel room in Palm Springs around noon and promptly collapsed for a nap to make up on the missed sleep.

Later on, when I reviewed my photos I discovered a massive piece of lint in many of the photos. When I tried to remove it with a special nylon brush, I accidentally contaminated the brush with some grease from the shutter or mirror mechanism, and made things much, much worse. I didn’t have wet cleaning fluid or sensor cleaning swabs with me, so I found a pharmacy in Palm Springs, bought cotton swabs, and talked the owner into giving me a small amount of the purest alcohol he had in stock. They normally don’t even sell it at this level of purity (or aren’t allowed to do so) but after I explained my plight he gave me a very small bottle of it for free, and I was able to clean my sensor (and the contaminated nylon brush) with it. :-)

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