Leaving the White Sands National Monument and Missile Range in our dust, Murray and I headed off for the nights stay in Hobbs, NM. On our way out we took our chances at the edge of the range and pulled over to grab this shot…
As we got close to Hobbs the sun faded quickly…but not before putting on quite a show. I had heard amazing things about New Mexico sunsets. But this one, I am pretty sure was in the all-time top 5!
And the fireworks finished with a BANG!
These were just cell phone shots mind you. Shot while (e’hem) “on the road” let’s say. Thank goodness for this wonderful sunset. The stay in Hobbs was nothing to write home about. Expensive hotel, cheap (and horrible tasting) wine, and pretty poor service still couldn’t ruin that sunset!
Hobbs, New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona
After a rocky stay at the Hampton Inn at Hobbs, NM Murray and I were anxious to get on the road to Tuscon, AZ where we would meet up with fellow photographer Steve Walser. Steve would be joining us for the ride Joshua Tree where we would ultimately “trade him” in for a new model. (More on that later) So the running joke up to this point was Murray bringing 12 or so bags for the trip, me only 3, and how we definitely needed a bigger boat! So add Steve and his measly 2 bags to the mix and you end up with this…
Yep, that’s my buddy Steve (The Bear) on special packing maneuvers, attempting to hold back the “flow”. We did finally manage to get the hatch closed and headed off to an awesome day at the Pima Air and Space Museum. A little “Gearhead” time before heading off to meet the rest of the gang in Joshua Tree tomorrow.
I LOVE airplanes, especially military planes. I also love abandon planes as well. So, when Steve mentioned Pima, I was all over it. After some digging on the internet, I came up with their website and did some investigating. Currently Pima has over 189,000 sq. ft. of indoor display space, 80 acres outdoors, and a collection (both indoors and out) of more than 300 complete aircraft. If you love aircraft of any kind, you are going to LOVE Pima! If you are photographer who likes to be creative, prepare to be challenged. The grounds and museum are not camera friendly. That is not to say they don’t allow cameras, they do! In fact we were even allowed to bring our tripods, welcomed even. Turns out though, they really weren’t needed. The planes are so crammed together that it is darned near impossible to photograph one plane without another being in the same shot. When I saw this, I was immediately deflated. You see prior to the trip, in the planning stages I tried to contact Pima about some exclusive time with my two partner shooters. I am insured and have safety training especially tailored for sites like this. Thing is, Pima would not respond to my contact attempts. When I do a shoot, I then write a story, like this one. Good folks like yourselves (usually enthusiasts and travelers) find my stories and photos on the net and then want to visit themselves. This is a good thing for everyone and usually well received. But unfortunately, these things happen. So I was going in, knowing that I was just another tourist with a camera. Not a bad thing, but definitely more difficult and not as special as I would have liked it for my friends. So upon seeing the yard so tightly packed, the 1000’s of people wandering about and my previously acquired information, I knew instantly, this was not going to be easy. I headed out into the “yard” with some serious trepidation. This shot will give you an idea of what I am talking about.
My goal whenever I visit this type of place is to try and capture the “non-standard” view. Maybe realize or see something others do not. Shot after shot though, I was beginning to succumb to defeat. I took a lot of photos, some I thought quite good.
But after reviewing the shots at the hotel that night, I knew there was nothing really to write home about. It wasn’t until about a month later when beginning to write for this story that I came up with an idea. An apprentice had been playing around with a new (old) plugin that I showed her called “Flood”. I had actually had the plugin back when it first came out and my interest was re-peaked when I saw another apprentice was using it to spice up a few of his photos. I had recalled an image of a sunken ship just under the surface in the Arctic and used that for my inspiration. I ended up taking all my shots and creating a series of “sunken” aircraft.
I wasn’t sure anyone would like or understand them, and to be honest, I had such fun creating them that I really didn’t care.
I just knew I wanted to do something different and special, so I did.
Back to the museum. Being one for the path most are unlikely to tread, I have to admit I was more interested in the grounds next to the museum known as “The Boneyard”. This is where all of the “parts” planes are. To me, there is much more of a story in these old scrapped planes than in static displays of complete planes. Unable to get in touch with anyone before hand, I asked at the ticket desk about the tour. I was prepared to make a sizable donation for access with my two pals to shoot but they would have none of it. Basically it’s a bus tour through the boneyard. No getting, no composing, no exploring, and no tripods. In, out, done. I did manage to sneak this shot in through a break in the fence….shhhhhh.
Besides hanging out with quickly becoming good friends Steve and Murray, my favorite part of the day was this killer tandem fly-over by an F16 hornet and a P47 Thunderbolt!
I am sure this is NOT a rare occurrence for the folks at the museum or Tucson for that matter. But to see these two birds together was a real treat for me. After the shoot we also go to see to P51 Mustangs (my fav plane ever) and an F18 Eagle showing off some acrobatics. I am pretty sure that being adjacent to the Davis-Monthan AFB helps the museum with these frequent sightings. I thoroughly enjoyed ALL of the museum even if I did not photograph it. Sometimes you need to just take a place in and put the camera down.
If you are visiting anywhere near Tuscon I highly suggest a visit. If you cannot make it out there, you can check out the online virtual tour here: Pima Virtual Tour Link Since Pima is a privately run NPO, please consider a donation at their website to keep this awesome place alive! Find out how to donate through your Amazon purchases here: Amazon Smile You can check out all of my shots from Pima at this link: Pima Air and Space Museum Gallery And for each print purchased, I will donate 5% to the museum!
Time to call it a day and hit the road for California! Destination, the classic Harmony Motel (U2 Fame) in Twentynine Palms, just outside Joshua Tree National Park.
Tuscon, AZ to Twentynine Palms, CA
It’s pretty straight shot across AZ to CA from Tucson. Not much to see or do but drive due to our time constraints. We do get a chance to make a quick pit-stop at a rest area just outside of Hope, AZ on Interstate 10. Pretty nice view for a rest stop!
The sun is fading fast and we still have 180 miles to go, roughly 2.5 hours until we reach Twentynine Palms and the Harmony Motel. Just outside of the California border somewhere between Quartzsite, AZ and our destination we get a nice surprise.
It’s certainly no New Mexico sunset but it is nice. (Note: When driving west prepare for the sun in your eyes, a LOT). With the sun set we manage our destination and our meet up with another photography mate from the Arcanum, Caleb Asch. Normally when I do these trips I will stay at Hampton Inns. There are various reasons, price, generally they are clean and you get what you expect, no bad surprises. Plus, I earn stay points with them through Hilton Honors which is nice. But sometimes, especially out in the southwest, there are no Hampton or Hilton Inns so alternatives must be found. Seeing that I am a retired musician, the U2 connection with their Joshua Tree album, and the famous Harmony Motel instantly came to mind when staying in the Twentynine Palms area.
While the new owners have restored the sign to original form, the service and stay was…nostalgic at best. Wifi was horrible and my room had a very musty smell. But, if you want the experience and don’t care about those things, it’s a cheap stay and you can say you did it. With it being late and nothing going on hat the Motel, we grab Caleb and decide to head into town for some nice lite Mexican fare at a small restaurant called Enchalada’s in downtown Twentynine Palms before hitting the hay. The food and company were both amazing! So much so, we all returned for a full meal the next night. But tonight is an early one as have a 5am rise, with a drive in and a meet-up with the last two of the group at Key’s Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park.
The Meet-up at Key’s Ranch
Key’s Ranch is open for regular guided tours daily. But the gal who came up with the idea of the Joshua Tree pilgrimage, Lisa Speakman, had other ideas. Lisa contacted the park ahead of time and arranged a special extended tour for us and it was amaze-maze! We pulled in to the gates at Key’s ranch early for our meeting. Joining the fray are Lisa Speakman and Erin Riedel. All of us so excited we scattered about taking shots of the incredible lenticular clouds that greeted us. I grabbed my GoPro and set up a time-lapse to capture the event while we were in shooting.
While the time-lapse hums away and we continue to wait for our guides (we were really early) I had a chance to grab a few shots.
From the minute we drove up I could tell this was going to be a special day.
The guides arrive right on time and wrangle up everyone to drive us in to the ranch.
The ranch was home to rugged homesteader William F. Keys, his wife Frances and their 5 children. The ranch stood occupied by Keys and his family for 60 years. The property is nestled in a remote canyon inside Joshua Tree National Park and it’s grounds are dotted with old tools, cars, mining equipment, and more. Today their ranch house, store, workshop, and school still stand. A testament to the ruggedness of the people who chose this desert ranch life and the structures they built. On the way in to the site the guides stop briefly to show us an old native American cave with tools discovered there.
Lisa did a great job setting up this tour. Normally it is limited to 90 minutes and no tripods. We were granted several hours and were allowed to bring all of our equipment in. The two guides and caretaker were all amazing, courteous beyond belief, and very helpful. Most people have read or heard me talk about my favorite place to shoot in Nevada called the Eldorado Gold Mine at Techatticup. Well Keys was definitely love at first site for me. The similarities between the two are amazing and Keys is now in a tie for my favorite place(s) to shoot!
We couldn’t have asked for a better day! It was a little chilly but not bad and the morning light was just gorgeous!
The ranch is not huge by any means, but it is HUGE on content. I could have shot here all day long.. Here is a smattering from the entire gallery.
Here is my shot from that location. Allegedly this was the sheriffs car and is sitting right where it stopped when the sheriff was shot by Bill Key’s himself over a dispute.
Having spent our allotted time at the Ranch, it’s time to gather up for a group shot.
To see all of my shots from the Key’s Ranch visit, check out the gallery here: https://goo.gl/p8TFaA
What a great start to the day….little did we know we would put in another 9 miles hiking, taking photographs, laughing, and having a great time with new friends. We grab our gear and head back out to the park.
Joshua Tree Exploration
The first place we head off to is Barker Dam. The hope is that there may be water there. Along the way though, many of us get slightly distracted.
During this trip I was anxious to try out two new pieces of gear, my Sony a7r and my Lee Big Stopper ND filter system. So the goal was to capture a sense of time passing in these shots. Most were single exposures, 30 seconds or longer. Here is one I took from the spot above to give you an idea.
Shooting these turned out to be quite problematic. Conditions have to be just right for them to work. There must be little or no wind to avoid any plant life from moving during your exposure and creating “ghosts” in your shot. The clouds though need to be moving fast enough to show the motion that you want. Generally you do not get one without the other. I have found that days with big puffy clouds are the best as long as low or no wind conditions exist. It does all depend on what you are going for. For these shots I wanted the foreground or subject to be dead still and the skies to be moving. It takes quite a bit of practice to get right. I am pretty happy with these.
After much wandering, shooting, and climbing, we finally make it to Barker dam and each set-up for our own unique shot.
Okay, so maybe they aren’t going to be super unique but to be honest, I could have not shot a photo all day and still been super happy just hangin’ with this bunch! Oh, there was NO WATER in the damn dam! So, I put some in it! X^)
So yeah, I edited my photo! So sue me! I was bound and determined to get a shot of water at the dam. The rest of the day was spent hiking around the park with my new friends and finding all sorts of cool things to photograph. We did take a break around noon for some lunch in town, where we found this:
I tried to get some detail shots of this beast but got photobombed by the famous Steve Walser.
One thing is for sure, if there is a cool car around, Steve will be near it! Lunch was amazing at Natural Sisters Cafe! Thank you Caleb for the awesome suggestion! Fully refreshed we head back to the park to scope out a location for sunset. We wandered all around the park and saw some amazing sites such as this downed Joshua tree.
Normally this would be a sad event, but in Joshua tree the downed trees become whole communities for all sorts of ground dwelling animals. As long as the destruction is not man-made it falls into the natural order of things and is awesome to see. We make our way through various areas of the park and finally decide on Key’s view for our sunset destination. Key’s view is an overlook situated in the Southwest corner of the park. At an elevation of 5185ft atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains, and being February, we were in for a very cold and windy wait on the sunset. While we wait for the show we all take some time to consume the view of Indio Hills in the valley below and the Salton Sea off in the far distance.
Here’s Caleb waiting on “the shot”.
And Lisa too. She’s cold but very, VERY happy! 😉
While we wait we notice something very bizarre. In the absolute opposite direction from where the sun is setting we see this:
To me it looks like the sun is reflecting off something in the distance we cannot see. Lisa has been back to the site since and witnessed this phenomenon again! If anyone out there knows what causes this mystery we would all love to know! Finally the sunset explodes and we get our shots. Here’s mine, and it ended up being one of my favorites from the day.
Well that’s a wrap for Joshua Tree but definitely not the end of the trip! Stay tuned for part III where we find an abandoned hotel, we build a sign made of stone in the desert, come face to face with the devil himself, and go mining for gold! In the meantime, you can check out my entire Joshua Tree Gallery here: https://goo.gl/1w9Zo9
Make sure to check out everyone’s blogs for their photos and stories from the trip: