An unforgettable weekend at Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

Camping under an endless sea of stars

Camping under an endless sea of stars

I simply couldn't have had a better weekend to celebrate my birthday last Saturday, on April 29th.

Exploring Joshua Tree National Park has been a dream of mine since the very first time I found out about the park, thanks to an U2 album named after the park.

So when Aleja told me we were going to spend the weekend there for my birthday, I was obviously super stoked. 

The park is actually not far from San Diego (about 100 miles) and with the hybrid car we have we are able to drive as much as 60 miles w/ one gallon of gas, so it was pretty cheap for us to get there. Plus, I love road trips. 

We left everything ready on Friday night and on Saturday we left our place at 4.30am. The few stars we can still see around here were still up in the sky when we loaded the car and left. It took us two and half hours to get there. The first hour, on freeways, was not the most exciting, but the final leg was certainly more interesting, with the Sun rising behind dry, arid mountains. We were getting closer.

A quick stop on the way for a picture of this beautiful scenery painted with a pinkish dawn light

A quick stop on the way for a picture of this beautiful scenery painted with a pinkish dawn light

Filling up the tank in Beaumont, just a few miles away from Joshua Tree National Park

Filling up the tank in Beaumont, just a few miles away from Joshua Tree National Park

Aleja enjoying a little nap as we drove past wind turbines just before reaching the little town of Joshua Tree

Aleja enjoying a little nap as we drove past wind turbines just before reaching the little town of Joshua Tree

When we got to the town of Joshua Tree we were both starving so after a quick search on the Internet for the best places to eat in town, we found this charming little cafe just across the road where we were parked at.

A charming and cozy place that serves the best Breakfast Burrito I have ever had. The new owners, once happy customers, have been running it for less than a year but the the place was first opened over forty years ago!

A charming and cozy place that serves the best Breakfast Burrito I have ever had. The new owners, once happy customers, have been running it for less than a year but the the place was first opened over forty years ago!

Even Aleja found I was crazy to take my camera to the bathroom but I couldn't help when I saw this combination of colors, light and shadow.

Even Aleja found I was crazy to take my camera to the bathroom but I couldn't help when I saw this combination of colors, light and shadow.

So after this delicious and unforgettable burrito, and four or five cups of black coffee, we were ready to go. It was still early, around 7am, so the light was still beautiful for the photographs I was hoping to make in the park.

The weekly pass costs 25$ while the annual one is sold for 40$, so we obviously got the second as even before entering the park we knew we wanted to be back there this year.

We took the Park Boulevard Rd. that cuts through the park and for the first part of the day we drove around and made a few stops for pictures. We did two short loop-hikes, the Hidden Valley Trail and the Barker Dam Nature Trail, and we drove up to Keys View

Park Boulevard Rd. zigzagging through the park

Park Boulevard Rd. zigzagging through the park

Aleja driving through the park so I could focus on the map; and on making pictures

Aleja driving through the park so I could focus on the map; and on making pictures

Gorgeous rock formations framed by our car's window 

Gorgeous rock formations framed by our car's window 

Incredible scenery all over the park

Incredible scenery all over the park

In the gallery below you can find some of the pictures we made at Hidden Valley Nature Trail.

And here are some from Keys View and Barker Dam Nature Trail.

After spending the whole morning driving around and doing some easy, short hikes, it was time to rest a bit from the heat and the Sun, and eat some of the food we had prepared and taken with us.

We stopped at a picnic spot near huge boulders where different groups of climbers were trying to make their way up.

After lunch, enjoying some warm Colombian coffee 

After lunch, enjoying some warm Colombian coffee 

We rested a bit, watched the climbers for a little while and then we drove to the parking area where we would park the car and leave for our overnight backcountry camping. It was about 2pm when we locked the car and began our hike.

Aleja making her way along the Boys Scout Trail 

Aleja making her way along the Boys Scout Trail 

Thousand of flowers, Joshua trees and piles of rocks that seem to have been put together by careful and creative hands 

Thousand of flowers, Joshua trees and piles of rocks that seem to have been put together by careful and creative hands 

Myself carrying our sleeping bags, the tent and our food (plus a bottle of wine and some dar chocolate)

Myself carrying our sleeping bags, the tent and our food (plus a bottle of wine and some dar chocolate)

We found what seemed to be the perfect spot for our camping after about 1h30 - 2h of hiking. We could indeed have gone further but our goal was not to hike as much as we could but to relax, enjoy the scenery, wander around, take pictures...I have been teaching Aleja some photography and she is only getting better and better :)

Finding some shade during the afternoon heat

Finding some shade during the afternoon heat

We set up our tent, organized our stuff inside and then wander around for a bit before finding some shade...we both had precious naps, meditated and contemplated in silence all the beauty around us, listening to the many sounds of Nature...the wind blowing and making leaves sing, the birds...and we saw plenty of beautiful and big-eared Black-tailed jackrabbit.

So after our first round of pictures, and our power naps and meditation, the light only got better so we were running around like crazy, trying to capture that gorgeous place made even more special with that golden light.

This mountain of rocks was on our right side and it got even more incredible with the warm light from the setting Sun

This mountain of rocks was on our right side and it got even more incredible with the warm light from the setting Sun

Synchronized steps as we explored the area 

Synchronized steps as we explored the area 

Joshua trees painted in gold

Joshua trees painted in gold

White, little flowers shinning in gold during sunset

White, little flowers shinning in gold during sunset

The place was already breathtaking at midday light so you can imagine it when the Sun was setting...

The place was already breathtaking at midday light so you can imagine it when the Sun was setting...

Without a doubt, Joshua Tree NP is a very special place...

Without a doubt, Joshua Tree NP is a very special place...

The Joshua tree in its iconic beauty, silhouetted by the setting Sun

The Joshua tree in its iconic beauty, silhouetted by the setting Sun

Enjoying a pinkish dusk from the top a mountain of rocks right in front our camping spot

Enjoying a pinkish dusk from the top a mountain of rocks right in front our camping spot

When the Sun set and the stars slowly began to appear in the blue sky, we set up our tripod and made a few pictures of that gorgeous transition from day to night. I also wanted to give a sense of place to our camping adventure so I was happy to have that higher point to show the vastness of the area surrounding us.  

We couldn't have found a better spot for our tent...

We couldn't have found a better spot for our tent...

When night fell...and the stars began their show...

When night fell...and the stars began their show...

It was probably just after 10pm when we finally got in our tent, had our dinner, enjoyed our wine and shared our gratitude for the unforgettable day we've just had. I think it's safe to say I was tired cause Aleja kept waking me up and telling me to stop snoring haha :D 

Apart from that, we slept really well and woke up the next day right on time to enjoy sunrise... 

I love it when the rising or setting Sun paints in gold just the tip of the mountain...

I love it when the rising or setting Sun paints in gold just the tip of the mountain...

A wonderful sunrise to wake us up and keep us warm

A wonderful sunrise to wake us up and keep us warm

We then started packing our stuff and got ready to start our hike back to the car...

Self-portrait when we were leaving our camping spot

Self-portrait when we were leaving our camping spot

We had a pleasant hike back to the car, loaded everything and drove towards the other end of the park, as we wanted to cross it entirely so we could also see the Colorado desert that dominates the eastern side of the park. 

It is a very different environment, and you don't find Joshua trees over there but it has its own beauty and there is also plenty to do and to see over there.

The famous "Skull Rock", one of the main attractions of the eastern side of the park

The famous "Skull Rock", one of the main attractions of the eastern side of the park

A classic pick-up truck parked alongside Park Boulevard Rd. 

A classic pick-up truck parked alongside Park Boulevard Rd

It was only after we visited the Skull Rock when we stopped at some pretty interesting rock formations to have our breakfast: some ham/cheese croissants, granola w/ milk and a few chocolate cookies :D

We then stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden; although I couldn't really explore it... 

Not a pretty sign to see when you are deadly allergic to bees...

Not a pretty sign to see when you are deadly allergic to bees...

Still, we walked a bit and made a few pictures before carrying on...

Getting dangerously close...

Getting dangerously close...

Our final stop in the park was to see the Ocotillo, a very interesting plant that gets really big...

Aleja admiring the unique beauty of this plant

Aleja admiring the unique beauty of this plant

We then drove until we left the park (Aleja having her occasional naps) and we took a different route from the one we had taken to go to the park, one that was way more interesting and took us across the Anza-Borrego desert all the way until the charming Julian, where we had coffee and chocolate-apple cakes for brunch before heading back home...

Arid beauty

Arid beauty

Cutting through Anza-Borrego

Cutting through Anza-Borrego

That was a memorable weekend, one that I will never forget. It was certainly one of the very best birthday days I've ever had and I feel very fortunate for being with a wonderful woman who knows exactly what I like....Ale, I love you! Thank you so much for the amazing, unforgettable trip, and I am already looking forward to the next ones!

I hope you guys have enjoyed seeing these pictures, I thank everyone who sent me birthday messages, and I express here my gratitude for having you all as part of my photography journey.

I'll be back here soon...

My best,

Bernardo Salce