In a tradition that began in 2006 as fun and concluded in 2022 as decidedly unfun, I write about my 17th and final Christmas visit to Joshua Tree National Park.
The one thing apparent from my 2006 images in Joshua Tree is the beautiful stillness of the place. At the time, coming to my favorite National Park on a holiday was an easy hack to enjoy some solitude.
I knew that had long been erased in 2022, and with Christmas Eve and Day falling on a weekend, even more so. Some of my friends and readers will remember my totally exasperated blog post when the Park was left open during Christmas during the Federal Shutdown, a huge mistake.
Luckily, nothing of that sort was going on this time. It was just so many people. I’ve said this before, but Joshua Tree largely looks like it did when I was a kid in the 80s when it was a National Monument. But now, that same infrastructure is trying to accommodate over 3 million annual visitors. There is a death zone on Park Blvd, especially in Queen Valley, where people have climbed, posed, and done all manner of destructive things to these fragile plants. There are at least a couple signs warning about Desert Tortoises, but not a sign anywhere telling people to stop doing yoga poses on 200 year old plants.
And with an early start to the rain season, the non-native grasses were nearly a foot high in places. One lightning strike, and a calamity will set in. I do not know if the grasses can be removed, tamed back, or if the damage is already done. The same damage that destroyed most of the Cima Dome’s beautiful forest in Mojave National Preserve.
People Doing Silly Things
I do camp South of the park in the BLM area where you can pull over. It offers pretty good access to Chiriaco Summit and it is only 45 minutes to White Tank. At 10 PM, there were 3 girls who pulled over in what looked like excitement to see the stars. That’s totally fine, except they pulled up directly next to the driver-side door of my Subaru, oblivious that I was there and it was late. They were loud, had loud music going, and didn’t turn any of their lights on. Then, to make it worse, another car pulled up and swung a huge semi-circle for no reason, pulling directly up to their vehicle and my rear fender. With high-beams on. I actually thought this dude was going to hit my car. I locked my door because I had no idea what was going on. Loud Girls did get in their car, but for reasons I cannot fathom, simply pulled over Cottonwood Springs Road, perpinducular to the flow of traffic. It was like they were sitting on train tracks waiting for the locomotive to crush them. Then, Hi-Beam Guy simply does a big circle and heads South to the freeway. Loud Girls do the same a couple minutes later. Just bizarre. I guess I should have been closer to Camp Young.
In the morning, I went to a place off Stirrup Tank Road that I photographed during Christmas 2020. While there, I encountered two people from Oregon doing tourist things. I made a circle around the larger rock outcropping I like, getting my photos where another rock casts a shadow on it. As I am coming back to my car, there is an NPS Ranger in a work truck chatting with the Oregon People. Inexplicably, they have their dog sitting on the asphalt with no leash, and of course, the dog starts growling and coming my way. I thought I was going to either be bit or have to stomp the dog. One of the Oregon People then runs to grab their unleashed dog, then does the “well normally he’s nice” bit that lazy dog owners do when they can’t follow the rules. And the entire time, NPS Guy is just watching and says nothing to them about following the rules.
That’s when I knew I was done.
I still love Joshua Tree. I still want to visit, regularly. But I still can’t get pass the National Park Service paradox of protecting valuable lands while simultaneously promoting tourism of it.
So, I will be back. Just not on Christmas. And since I am getting more Vacation time with the company that purchased my employer, I can come back during the week. And I only sold one copy of The Photographer’s Guide To Joshua Tree National Park this month, so I need to go do some work on that site.
Some Photography Did Occur
Below are a few photos I created and I hope you enjoy them.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.