Thursday 28 March 2019

Joshua Tree encounter

On the way to Bryce Canyon from Las Vegas we were on the lookout for anything that might make for a decent photograph with the setting sun as a backdrop. On any photography expedition the first day is always a challenge. You forget important things as you refamiliarise yourself with your gear, but really it is inspiration and artist talent that is normally lacking. We had a few hours to get over that hump and hopefully start our first full day in the right frame of mind.

Driving through the semi-desert landscape I began to perceive familiar shapes. Shapes I had never seen but that were burned in my subconscious. Joshua Trees. I am a big fan of spiky plants - cycads, agaves, aloes and yuccas, and the Joshua Tree, named by Mormon settlers, is one of the latter. Yucca brevifolia to be precise. I had never seen one in habitat, indeed never even tried to grow one as I viewed it as pointless - they grow an inch per year in a narrow elevation band where California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona meet, and until they develop a trunk they look like quite a few other yuccas. Many people will have heard of Joshua Tree National Park east of L.A. in California, but actually the denser populations of trees are further north in the Mojave Preserve. I had not been expecting to find trees even further north than this, but here they undeniably were.

We pulled over as soon as a suitable way to get closer to the trees presented itself, and I fulfilled a long-held ambition. To cut to the chase they are extraordinary. The trunks are covered in the old leaf bases, and the green spheres of live growth are completely unyielding with pungent spines. Tree-huggers beware, these are a fabulous example of evolution at work, completely at ease in the landscape, ancient sentinels keeping watch. We stuck around until the sun set behind the clouds, enthralled.

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