By Nigel Haycock
I have visited the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California a few times, mostly because it is the closest national park to me (living near to Los Angeles) also because that area has a lot of interest for me and the light is amazing. Previously we have stayed near to Palm Springs in hotel type accommodation, this trip however we would be camping close to the park area.
I decided to take along my recently acquired Voigtländer Bessamatic CS with the two lenses I have; the mighty Zoomar lens and the petite 50mm Skopar.
I took along a few black and white films (Ilford Delta 400 and Kodak T-Max 100), originally I had planned to try Fomapan but my order got lost.
Our accommodation for the weekend was our 1969 Prowler travel trailer (or caravan) which we hitched up to our 1990 Ford Bronco and headed south, daring the Los Angeles traffic. With a three-day holiday weekend and a massive brush fire starting just as we set off it took a lot longer than hoped; arriving late in the evening with not time, or much light, for photography.
Our campsite was the ‘Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground’ which is just north of the Park, close to the Joshua Tree town itself. It had all we needed for our short trip, was clean and well maintained; perfect as our base for exploring.
Friends had joined us for this trip with their two kids and we headed into the Joshua Tree National Park for a hike choosing the Wall Street Mill trail.
The Park is huge and we have previously driven the main routes taking in the popular sites close to the road like the Cholla Cactus Garden and Skull Rock. We have also hiked the Lost Horse Mine trail which also has interesting photography subjects.
For this day, I decided to load up a roll of Kodak T-Max and use the 50mm lens. Shooting with the Bessamatic was easy as the settings are visible through the viewfinder and, as mine is the CS version of the Bessamatic, it has the TTL CdS light meter although due to the difference in battery you have to compensate a stop or so. I am starting to like the fact that you cannot look through the viewfinder unless you are wound-on; it meant for less disappointment in framing a shot then finding the camera is not ready.
The Wall Street Mill trail is an interesting trail with a number of artifacts along the way, including long-abandoned vintage cars which make great photographic studies and which I suspect are frequently represented on the internet. I find it shocking that these cars have been sat in the desert for what might be 50 or a hundred years and they are still there.
The mill itself is fenced off to prevent damage by eager tourists but still provides for good photos.
Having completed the hike, we went for a late breakfast at a local spot in Joshua Tree itself and captured a few shots around town.
The second day we took a drive to Palm Springs to try out the aerial tramway. The tramway takes you to the top of the mountain at a height of 8,500ft and at the top there is another national park providing hiking trails etc.
For this I loaded Ilford Delta 400 and fitted the 36-82mm Zoomar lens. The combination is a heavy beast but enjoyable to use with a nice smooth operation.
To be honest the park at the top was a slight surprise and we only came prepared for a short visit to catch the views. With temperatures below at about 105⁰F (40C) and the top at close to 50⁰F (10C) we were feeling the temperature drop in our shorts and tee-shirts. We did a short hike and returned down the mountain before heading into Palm Springs itself.
Palm Springs and the Joshua Tree are great destinations which I really like. The Park offers amazing landscapes and natural phenomena, Palm Springs has an interesting recent popular history and is filled with Mid-century modern architecture. In between is miles of desert which has its own desolate and interesting aspects as well as a massive wind farm which always draws my attention.