Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Story Behind the Image-Sunrise at Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park 1991: It rained the night before. Not the light sprinkling of rain the desert was used to. Not the soaking rain that brought the brown dormant plants back to the green color of life. It was a "once a decade" gully washer. It was the kind of rain that moved boulders and changed the paths of riverbeds. It was the kind of rain you that made you hope you were at home, snuggle up with a book, listening to it pounding on the roof.  Instead, I lay in my tent, watching the leaks drip from the ceiling and wondering why I ever came on this class field trip to begin with.

I could hear voices from the other side of our group campground. Commiserating with friends sounded better than trying to sleep under the constant threat of water torture. I bundled up, unzipped the tent and ran through the downpour to meet up with my classmates and instructor. Ten of us piled into an ancient VW van that night. We told stories, we shared snacks, and a we passed around a bottle of Southern Comfort until it was empty. Sometime after 1:00 in the morning, the rain stopped drumming on the roof of the van and we piled out and made our ways back to our soggy tents and sleeping bags.

The cold front came through sometime between the time I went to bed and when the alarm went off at 5:00 in the morning. I wanted to sleep in but knew the only way to stay warm was to get moving. I climbed into my car and slowly made my way past my companions still bundled up in their tents.

I parked the car beside the road and slowly made my way along a jeep trail into the desert. The landscape was quiet, dark, and encased in ice and frost. Every step I took on the frozen ground sent the sound of cracks and pops shouting across the desert.  I finally found the spindly Joshua Tree I was looking for and set up the camera. As I waited for the sunrise, I pace back and forth on the trail, occasionally skipping and jumping, to keep warm. Finally, the color of the coming sunrise began to color the lowest margins of the sky. The warm color on the horizon bled to purple then to blue and finally back to the black of night directly overhead where the stars still twinkled in the darkness. At that moment I knew I had my image. I've seen more incredible sunsets and sunrises at Joshua Tree since that morning. I've seen skies that seem to catch fire from the setting sun. I've seen fog cloaking the landscape at dawn and I've seen clearing storm send shafts of light blazing across the landscape. Still, no photo in the park has ever captured a moment for me like this one, perfectly catching the contrast between the last lingering cold of the night and the hope of the warm rising sun of the day.

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