I knew I wanted to do some night photography, besides usual day hike photography, so it was a quick decision to make to go to either Joshua Tree National Park or Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Since I recently hiked in Anza-Borrego and also a new Interagency Pass, aka National Park Pass, arrived just in time for this trip, I decided to head east. For night photography, I had several spots in mind in Joshua Tree NP, and Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View were among them. I found out that I also could do a short hike to Mount Inspiration from Keys View, so it was a rather easy decision to make on Keys View in Joshua Tree NP.

HOW TO GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

There are two main entrances to Joshua National Park, and one is via CA-62 (Twentynine Palms Hwy), and the other is via Cottonwood Springs Road off of I-10.

If you enter through Twentynine Palms, you drive to Park Rd from CA-62, north end of the park. You will make a stop at West Entrance Station, where you pay a fee for entering or show your pass.

Note: You can also take Yucca Trail to Park Rd. from the point where CA-62, Yucca Trail and Sage Ave. meet.

If you’re coming from the south side of the park, you will want to make a stop at Cottonwood Visitor Center, where you pay a fee.

HOW TO GET TO KEYS VIEW IN JOSHUA TREE NP

In order to get to Keys View in Joshua Tree NP, after the West Entrance Station, you stay on Park Rd. for about 10.5 miles till you see Keys View Rd. on your right. Turn right there and drive for another 5.5 miles or so.

If you enter the park via Cottonwood Visitor Center, stay on Cottonwood Springs Rd., which turns into Pinto Basin Rd. for about 30 miles, and then turn left onto Park Rd. and drive for 12 miles. Once you see Keys View Rd. on your left, turn left there and drive till you reach the Keys View parking lot.

WHEN TO VISIT KEYS VIEW TO HIKE MOUNT INSPIRATION

All year-round. However, make sure to check the weather.

ITEMS YOU MUST BRING

  • Water
  • Layers in case it’s windy
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat

MY MOUNT INSPIRATION HIKE AND NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

While visiting Keys View in Joshua Tree NP, my goal was to hike and take landscape photos during day and to capture starry night sky at night, particularly, with the Milky Way in mind.

What I didn’t factor in to accomplish my goal was the fact that the Waning Moon was way brighter in the desert than in the city. So, the Milky Way was hardly visible.

Nonetheless, it was an awesome photography trip.

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This Ocotillo caught my eye and I had to pull over

I was driving on Yucca Trail to the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park and came across this particular Ocotillo that was blossoming in bright red.

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Ocotillo flowers were blossoming!

Obviously, it must’ve been watered well, compared to what I saw at Hellhole Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The flowers were bright red and the leaves were so green!

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Entering the park

When I reached the station, I showed off my National Park Pass at the station. Once entering the park, in spite of the fact that all the Joshua Trees and piles of boulders looked so inviting, I drove straight to Keys View.

Frankly, I’d been to the park a couple of times before (camping and hiking both times), but it was my first time getting to Keys View in Joshua Tree NP. I was actually quite excited about it. Particularly when I was thinking about hiking Mount Inspiration and astrophotography.

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Keys View parking lot seen while returning from a short hike to Mountain Inspiration

I reached Keys View in Joshua Tree NP and found ample parking space. I grabbed my camera, gout out of the car and hopped up to the lookout point.

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View of the Salton Sea and Santa Rosa Mountain

It was very hazy, so it was hard to make the Salton Sea out of the southward view. According to the information panels at the lookout point, unfortunately, it was the smog blown in from all over the Greater Los Angeles area and trapped in here.

Santa Rosa Mountain seen just across the valley reminded me of Villager and Rabbit Peaks when I attempted to bag both peaks. I’ll definitely go back there and hike them again.

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View of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio

Then, I turned to Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio of the San Bernardino Mountains. It was quite delightful to see them from a different angle. Particularly Mt. San Jacinto. It was close enough to see the snow still remaining in the north face.

I didn’t stick around longer at the lookout point because I had a peak to bag.

Returned to my car, grabbed my daypack and started heading up the hill, which was located in the opposite side of the parking lot. You can view the track of this hike to Mount Inspiration with detailed stats on Gaia GPS page. You can also download the .gpx file.

Note: I was mistaken to think that I reached the Mount Inspiration summit. So, if you plan to hike to the actual summit, please refer to the map below.

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Mount Inspiration hike

I should’ve looked into it more thoroughly. Next time when I visit Keys View in Joshua Tree NP again, I’ll definitely go up to the summit.

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Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus, aka the strawberry hedgehog cactus

Soon after the first bump, I started seeing more wildflowers. Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus was blossoming.

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Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus with Mt. San Jacinto in the background

These purple flowers of the cactus reminded me of the Ocotillo hike in Anza-Borrego where I also saw them. Truly, it is the season of wildflowers.

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Facing eastward

This burned down tree was the remnants of the “Quail Fire,” the wildfire this area saw a few years ago. You can learn more about it here.

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This particular section of the trail was a perfect spot to see these purple wildflowers

Considering the fact that it happened less than 4 years ago, it looked like the wildflowers were thriving here.

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Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix Glabrata)

Desert Dandelions were everywhere.

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Wildflowers

And this red wildflower was abundant as well.

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Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus at the false summit

At the second bump, which I thought was the Mount Inspiration summit, I saw more Engelmann’s hedgehog cacti blossoming, along with other wildflowers.

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False summit of Mount Inspiration with Mt. San Jacinto and the San Bernardino Mountains in the far distance

Although this wasn’t the actual summit, the view of the mountains was impressive enough.

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Arrow pointing at Mt. San Gorgonio

Then this arrow caught my eye. It should’ve occurred to me that it was actually pointing in the direction of the actual summit.

But since I thought I was at the summit, I didn’t think twice about going up any farther, other than just wondering what else was there in that direction.

I was just intrigued by the fact that somebody made this arrow sign for some reason, and took a photo of the arrow ‘pointing’ at Mt. San Gorgonio.

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Arrow pointing at Mt. San Jacinto

And the arrow ‘pointing’ at Mt. San Jacinto.

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Closeup of Mt. San Gorgonio

And then the closeup of Mt. San Gorgonio. It was shrouded with the clouds earlier when I arrived Keys View, but now it seemed like the clouds headed east. It was very clear though that there was still a plenty of snow at the summit.

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Closeup of Mt. San Jacinto

And the closeup of Mt. San Jacinto. What was so cool to me was that I was looking at its north face from another angle. I saw it many times in the past while driving by the mountain when doing Skyline hike or C2C hike. Or when I was at the top of Mt. San Gorgonio. But, not from Keys View in Joshua Tree NP nor from the other side of the valley.

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View of the Salton Sea in the far distance

I turned to the direction of the Salton Sea, but it was still barely visible, along with Santa Rosa Mountain to the right.

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Echinocereus triglochidiatus

This cactus, aka Kingcup cactus, Claretcup, or Mojave mound cactus, was blossoming. Just like Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus, it was so bright that I could spot them 20 feet away.

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Wildflowers

It was quite interesting to see a variety of wildflowers blossoming quite well at the false summit.

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Different colors of rocks

While returning to Keys View, I came across this placement of the rocks created by someone. And I thought how colorful and interesting the rocks found in the area were.

I was planning to go hiking in Painted Canyon in Mecca Hill Wilderness next day, which was located on the other side of I-10, near the Salton Sea, so this got me excited about what was ahead.

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Wide view of Keys View upon returning

Upon returning to Keys View, I didn’t see a single soul on the trail. Apparently this wasn’t a popular trail.

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Joshua Tree

Since the park was aptly named Joshua Tree, I took a few shots of them.

One of the history bits that I learned is that the park was only accorded to national park status 22 years ago. Of course, no one keeps track of how long it has been, unless you’re a park ranger or a tour guide, but the fact is that Joshua Tree was a national monument before for 58 years since 1936 when President Franklin D Roosevelt designated it as one.

I wondered how long it would take for Devels Postpile National Monument, which was designated even earlier than Joshua Tree, back in 1911, to reach national park status. And what about San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which was designated as a national monument by President Barrack Obama in October 2014.

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Facing south at sunset

It was getting close to the sunset time. Part of me wanted to hike back up to Mount Inspiration, but the strong wind put that thought out of my head rather quickly.

I walked up to the lookout point with my camera gear. It had been windy all afternoon, but it got worsened by then. It felt like it was blowing 40 plus MPH. Many visitors wanted to stay there and catch the sunset but they couldn’t. The blustering wind literally turned them away. Too cold.

Oh, mother nature.

Part of me thought about driving over to Cholla Cactus Garden not to deal with such strong winds, but since Keys View in Joshua Tree NP was the highest point in the west part of the park where I could drive to, I decided to stay put.

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Sunset

The sun was setting over Mt. San Jacinto.

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The shadows got longer and longer and the colors got intense as the sun was almost touching the tip of the blanket of the clouds!

The lower the sun was setting, the brighter the colors became. And the stronger the winds blew! Or I just felt the temperature drop rather quickly.

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Cassia armata, aka Desert Senna, was not blossoming yet but would’ve been a good foreground object if it did.

Once the sun was behind the clouds, the whole world started sinking into the darkness quickly. Rather too quickly. Those visitors who stuck around long enough swiftly got off the lookout point and in their cars and deserted Keys View as fast as they could.

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The sun was setting behind the clouds

The silhouette of thick blanket of clouds hovering over the range of Mt. San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountain was quite dramatic.

The magic hour was gone. Then, the nightfall came.

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Lightening at night

As soon as it got dark, I got in the car to drive over to Cholla Cactus Garden to capture the starry night sky. Then, I decided to stick around a little longer to see how the night sky actually looked like at Keys View in Joshua Tree NP.

As expected, thousands of stars, if not millions that my eyes could count, came out and spread across the clear night sky. There were some clouds lingering over the hills in the distance but never advanced in any direction.

At another corner storm clouds were building. I saw lightening every few seconds. But I could not tell if it was headed my way.

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Air traffic

The night sky was soon filled with short strips of light!

Air traffic! Not a meteor shower.

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City lights from Coachella, Mecca and Valerie were too bright

I turned to the direction of the south where the Milky Way was supposed to rise later, but the light pollution from Mecca, Coachella and Valerie was too much. I wasn’t sure how it would affect the look of the Milky Way.

So, I decided to ditch Keys View and headed to Cholla Cactus Garden.

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Jupiter and Big Dipper

When I got there, it was quite dark.

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Jupiter and Big Dipper

Big Dipper was hanging just over my head and Jupiter not too far from it.

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Mars seen between cacti

And then I spotted Mars having risen above the horizon. I framed it between the silhouette of Cholla cacti.

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Mars seen between Cholla cacti

The Milky Way galactic center was not supposed to come up till 1 am, so I was up till 11 pm and then took an hour nap. Woke up to see if one end of the Milky Way was visible.

Instead, what I saw was the Waning Moon up in the air brighter than anything in the night sky. And it had risen over the hill where the Milky Way was supposed to come up.

Disappointing a bit but there was nothing I could do. I decided to go back to sleep for a couple of more hours. I woke up again around 3 am, but the night was as bright as day. It was clear that the night wasn’t the night for the Milky Way.

I told myself that I should get some more sleep to get up early and catch the sunrise instead. I fell asleep rather quickly.

Have you been to Keys View in Joshua Tree NP? Have you hiked to Mount Inspiration? Do you visit the park often? What is your favorite part in Joshua Tree National Park? Do you like Cholla Cactus Garden?

Thanks for reading.

Earth

8 COMMENTS

  1. Love Joshua Tree! I went there a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay for the sunset and the star views at night (your pictures look beautiful). I want to go back and experience that next time in I’m California!

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