I know that this is near impossible to believe, but I may have been wrong when I claimed that the Joshua tree—Yucca brevifolia—was part of the Lily family. Well, it always had been, but modern DNA testing shows enough differences that botanists had to break the giant Lilly family into 40 distinct species. It used to be that scientist categorized plants by looking at their dirty little sex parts, and the flowers of Joshua trees, yuccas, and lilies look the same. Along comes DNA testing and—bam—Joshua Trees are now considered an agave, and its closest cousin is the yucca. DNA is turning our old assumptions upside-down. I always thought that my father’s family came from Poland, but when my DNA tests came back, they said that I’m actually Lower Slobbovian.
My botany lesson is included—at no extra charge—because I was shooting along the Joshua Tree Parkway this week and saw the trees beginning to bloom. Like other agaves, the trees put out a large phallic that opens to an enormous stalk with clusters of white flowers. Research suggests that frost damages the branch ends which triggers the blooms. If a tree doesn’t experience freezing, it doesn’t put out flowers or reproduce. These specimens grow as a single stalk, and the behavior limits the tree’s range to southwest deserts from 2,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation.
Another weird thing about Joshua trees is that they’re pollinated by the Yucca Moth. Polination happens when it lays eggs on the flowers which turn into seed pods resembling a small squash. If you’re a Euell Gibbons follower, you can eat the flowers and fruit. They need to be boiled or roasted to remove bitterness that comes from alkaline soil … and you’ll want to dig the worms out of the fruit. It has a banana taste, or so I’m told. I’ll stick to Mars Bars.
For this week’s featured image, I wanted to show an emerging bud without clutter—almost an abstract graphic. This image worked best for me. I call it Joshua Bud. The flower was overhead and with a cloudy sky. When I processed the photo, I blew-out the highlights to simplify the background. Like the groundhog, the bud says that spring is imminent.
You can see a larger version of Joshua Bud on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll begin a series from a new place.
Like a lot of photographers, I shoot a lot more images than I show. Most of them never see the light of day. On each outing—like last week’s rain day—I’ll fire off 50 to 75 shots and when I transfer them to my computer, I’ll have one or two keepers—if I’m lucky. The first thing I do is to delete the mistakes immediately—you know, the accidental shot of my feet that I get when taking the camera out of the bag—or shots that are hopelessly out of focus. Then I look for the best. I really should get rid of the rest, but even though I may never look at them again, I keep them on file.
There are lots of reasons that I reject a photograph. The composition isn’t right, the focus is soft, or the shot didn’t work. As a landscape photographer, I have a thing about power lines. They’re everywhere, and I have to work around them. That means that I’ll drive or walk a bit to remove them from the scene.
And that brings me to this week’s featured image that I call Rainbow Power. No matter how much we grumpy old photographers groan about them, we still look at pictures of flowers, babies, kittens, and rainbows. We just don’t want to get caught doing it. This week’s image is one of those rejects that I kept returning to it because it shows the range of light last week’s fast-moving storm dragged along the Joshua Tree Parkway as it moved north. Besides, I think rainbows are pretty.
I’ll probably never print this image because of the power lines, but this rainbow was intense and seemed to disappear into the clouds then descend again to the left out of the camera’s view. Oh, and I missed the pink unicorn because it ran over the hill before I could frame the shot. Moments after snapping this image, even the rainbow disappeared. The weather was happening so fast that I didn’t have time to work it—trying different angles, different framing, or changing the site to eliminate the wires. All that I had time to do was capture the moment—warts and all.
You can see a larger version of Rainbow Power on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from the Joshua Tree Parkway.
My mother used to tell me that I didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Did your mom say things like that to you when you were growing up? Mine had a catalog of proverbs, one for every occasion. It’s too bad she’s gone now because after 70 years I finally have a witty retort. Making comments about our mental faculties—my sisters got the treatment too—was slandering our lineage and upbringing. In other words, my parents didn’t give me much intelligence, or they didn’t learn me well. So my behavior was her fault. Take that mom.
Maybe she was right though. Last week, we had a couple of fast-moving storms come through Congress. These weren’t the usual winter fronts that are uniformly gray and dreary. Instead, these storms had layered low clouds with scattered showers interspersed with blue patches. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window watching the changing light, before telling Queen Anne that I was going to play in the rain. You’ll never guess what she said.
After tossing my camera and a spare lens into Archie, I drove up and down the Joshua Tree Parkway a couple of times. It is my current monthly topic after all, and as I said last week, it’s nearby. There were times along the road that I had the sunroof open, so I could stand on the seat to take a shot, mixed with moments where the wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. Some shots got away because I couldn’t quickly find a safe spot to pull over. It seemed that there was always a semi filling my rearview mirror. This game of highway dodge-ball went on for a couple of hours before the light got so dim that the exposures were too long to hand hold the camera.
Of the shots that I took, I liked this one best. It shows a squall line as it moved north over Malpais Mesa and lots of Joshua Trees in the foreground. I called this image February Storm. I feel that the gold, gray, and even hints of blue captured the essence of last week’s storms. It also shows that there are exciting images to shoot even when the weather’s not perfect. Just remember to bring a cloth to wipe your camera dry.
You can see a larger version of February Storm on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from the Joshua Tree Parkway.
I didn’t have to travel far for this month’s featured subject; in fact, there’s one growing in our park’s entrance. I’m talking about Joshua Trees—which are not trees, but lilies on steroids. They only grow in the southern deserts of Arizona and neighboring states. The Mormons were the ones that named them because the trees looked like the prophet waving them on to their promised land. Whoa, don’t Bogart that joint, Ebenezer. According to this Arizona Highway’s article, Territorial Governor John C. Fremont called them the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.
Although most people associate Joshua Trees with the national park in California and the band U2’s first album, Arizona’s grove covers a large area either side of U.S. Highway 93 from the State Route 71 junction 22 miles north to the Santa Maria River. If you’ve driven to Vegas, it’s the long downhill run in between the Tres Alamos Wilderness and the Date Creek Range. ADOT put up designation signs for that section, and then they added more signs that read “Joshua Trees” if you couldn’t spot them. Queen Anne’s the only person I know that hasn’t seen the roadside trees because she’s asleep the moment the car door closes.
Joshua trees have been in the news lately—not here, but at the national park in California. During the recent government shutdown, vandals took advantage of the lack of staff and damaged gates, signs, and fences. They also knocked down and ran over a good number of the trees with off-road vehicles. How senseless and selfish. Joshua Trees are very slow-growing, so it will take centuries for them to recover.
I found this week’s featured image while driving along the dirt road under power lines. There the trees were dense, so it was like trying to pick only one Victoria Secret Angel to photograph. The specimen that I selected had several new shoots growing under the parent plant. The way the young plants clustered around the adult reminded me of how aspen saplings cover a forest floor, so I called this image Joshua Saplings.
As usual, you can see a larger version of Joshua Saplings on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Joshua Tree Parkway.