Most people of my generation are familiar with the Joshua tree because of the 1987 album by the band U2. I have been thrilled to hear that they will be on a Joshua Tree tour this year, again.
When I visited Joshua Tree National Park in January 1994 for the first time, I became quickly obsessed with finding the most photogenic specimen.
And there are thousands of them, all lamenting the state of the planet, it seems.
They are interesting plants – not trees, actually, but yuccas. Being able to spread through seeds or rhizomes, sprouting from their extensive root system, makes them well adapted to desert climate. Otherwise they are not particularly useful, which is probably the reason why they are still around.
Besides admiring the Joshua trees, there are other things one can do in the park. I, for instance, had liberated a cactus that was held in captivity in a store in Berkeley, and planted it in the desert.
We had ideals back then.
My last pre-digital visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore was in late fall of 2000.
I find it amusing to see how the way we view things can change in mere seven years.
There is a first image of which has become a leitmotiv since:
And of course, the accidental color among all the gray.
My second visit to Point Reyes National Seashore was later in 1993, when the weather forecast promised high coastal winds, and Bryce suggested to go storm watching.
Above we are on our way to the Lighthouse, and below are the first storm clouds.
It got a little bit more dramatic,
but we stayed dry and took pretty silhouette pictures.
At the end, the colors returned.
My first visit to Point Reyes National Seashore was on the occasion of the CHAOS Fall Gourmet Trip 1993. The rules for these trips are simple: Dress up and bring good food.
On the way to the camp site you were also supposed to help carry supplementary items like pieces of a portable hot tub.
After pitching the tents and admiring each other’s costumes, more serious activities would commence.
There were also opportunities to hunt for more food.
Which was obviously rather tasty.
One of the must-sees for tourists in California is Napa. To be honest, the wines are overpriced, and the landscape is underwhelming. Go a bit further north, to the Russian River Valley, and enjoy the scenery by bike.
You will know that your are doing this with the right sort of people when they cross the river like this
even though there is a bridge and they didn’t have any wine (yet).
The winemakers were friendly and let us taste for free even though they knew we would not buy much wine.
“What do you call the desert out yonder?” McTeague’s eyes wandered over the illimitable stretch of alkali that stretched out forever and forever to the east, to the north, and to the south.
“That,” said Cribbens, “that’s Death Valley.”
Backpacking in Death Valley seems like an odd idea, but it’s not so bad, if you pick the right time of the year, and the right people. I did so with members of the California Hiking and Outdoor Society (CHAOS) in December 1993.
The daytime temperatures were quite pleasant, but at night they would drop below freezing. So we had to pack warm gear, and in addition 2 gallons of water each. So I was bit worried about the weight of my camera, but I decided to pack it and to leave the bottle of wine at home instead.
One of the new people was Tuan, who had brought his large format camera (in addition to an SLR with several lenses).
I asked him politely whether this wouldn’t be too much to carry, and he responded equally politely that this would not be a problem.
I learned later that Tuan had worked as a mountain tour guide in the Alps, was an experienced ice climber, had climbed Denali (and many other peaks), and was in the process of documenting all National Parks of the US in large format. Tuan also taught me to value the 24mm and 85mm focal lengths for landscape photography. One certainly met interesting people at CHAOS.
So in many ways this trip had been an eye opener for me, for landscape, for people, and for photography.
Honoré de Balzac’s short story Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu has as a theme the desperation of the artist Frenhofer over
his disability to complete his masterpiece.
It is an early paradigm for fragmental art where not the completed work is the objective but the fragment deliberately left incomplete.
Why do we give up and turn back? This can be because of lack of skills or imminent danger, and it is a sane thing to do.
But it can also be because we reach a point that we realize we should not touch, we reach a realm that is not ours.
This happened to me on a long weekend hike on McGee trail in the John Muir Wilderness in the eastern Sierras, in the early summer of 1994.
The trail leads at the beginning through lush meadows, but one quickly gains altitude, and the colored mountains like Mount Baldwin here become predominant. It is a magic landscape, both remote and imposing.
With McGee Lake, nestled below Mount Crocker and Red and White Mountain, we have reached our destination. The vegetation has receded, and being exposed like this makes us restless. After a short break and swim, we scramble on.
From Hopkins Pass, the view opens up into even more remote regions of the eastern Sierras. The message is clear and double edged: This is utterly beautiful, but we do not belong here. Humbled, we turn back.