Red Rocks, Joshua Tree
Oil on canvas, 10x10
After seeing the Pacific, I headed for Twentynine Palms, Calif., and the Joshua Tree National Park.
I usually avoid places that are already protected, but one of my friends and sponsors asked me to paint Joshua trees, and so I went. It It was a marvelous, enriching, soul-filling experience. I loved it.
Joshua Tree National Park, all 1,234 acres of it, has been protected since 1936. It's been a national park since 1994. It is filled with Joshua trees, and with amazing and extremely bizarre rocks. In places, it was like being on the moon, or underwater, or in someone else's dream.
Joshua trees, according to the ever-helpful Wikipedia, grow pretty much only in California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada - the Mojave Desert. The trees like it best when they're at an elevation between 1,300 feet and 5,900 feet. Joshua Tree National Park is one of the trees' most favored environments. There's also a Joshua tree forest in the Mojave National Preserve.
The trees were named by Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave in the mid-19th century. The shape of the tree reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
And they do look like people, in a way. They have a single tall trunk, and their branches are gnarled, with no little twiggy branches, just the main ones, twisted and turned, graceful and grotesque at the same time. They do look as though they are imploring, praying, raising their arms to the heavens.
Maybe it's because of the name, or the people-like trees, or the strange and amazing rocks, or the gorgeous, breathtaking, open landscape, or maybe it just is the aura of the place, but it seemed like a spot in which God was very close. It felt like a place of the spirit, a place of the soul.
I spent two days and a night there, painting and camping in the van. I wanted to hear the quiet and see the stars, and watch the sun come up, all of which I did, shivering through some of it.
I'd always imagined Twentynine Palms to be an exotic and graceful place. Haven't you? Doesn't it sound like an oasis, a place of light and elegance?
It is anything but. It's a dusty, sort of scruffy place, rough around the edges, not very friendly. Someone was shot and killed there on the night I spent in the park.
There are some fun murals there, though, on the sides of buildings and stores.
***On the way to Joshua Tree, I passed through a gigantic windfarm. It went on like this, on both sides of the highway, and then continued on the road onto which I exited. It was pretty amazing. And some of the windmills were turning in the light breeze, but most weren't.
There's more to Joshua Tree National Park than trees. There are also fascinating rocks and rock formations. Some are made of thousands if not millions of small (probably not so small, really) sharp-looking rocks. Others are piles of oddly smooth and rounded rocks. I've not seen anything like either formation. Between the strange trees and odd rocks, it felt a little like being on another planet, or undersea, or in some other time.
***I took these three pictures during the same sunset!
It just got better and better and better.
The moon set, and the dawn was just beginning when I took the photo below.