“Morning Light” Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

copyright Linda Dalton Walker

June, 2021 I heeded the call of the desert and drove to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time to photograph the Joshua Trees, boulders, and the Cholla Cactus. I had read about the beauty of the Cholla Cactus Garden, and after hours of research I realized the best time to photograph that area was at sunrise.

The Airbnb I was staying in was a ten minute drive to the park’s entrance out of Joshua Tree, but then I calculated I would have to drive another fifty minutes to the cactus garden from the entrance. This would mean a 4:00 AM rise, so I could catch the sunrise, and after being out late at night photographing the sunset, I knew I was in for a challenge.

As I was driving along the park’s road, in pre-dawn and only encountering a random vehicle here and there, I began to question my early rise. Would it really be worth the drive? Was the garden all and more that I had read about? I encountered so many beautiful locations as I was driving to the garden that I wanted to stop to photograph them, but I just kept my foot pressed on the gas pedal – my goal ahead of me. However, many times over I kept wondering if it would be worth it.

Approaching the Cholla Cactus Garden was downhill, and as I came upon the garden, with the sun breaking over the hills highlighting the Cholla’s yellow and brown coloring, I wanted to screech on my brakes. The beauty was outstanding, and the clouds were playing out perfectly that morning. I spent the next four hours photographing these incredible species that just call to you to touch them, but the pliers on the paths remind you that you’d better keep your hands in tight.

I brought four different lenses with me that morning, and I was grateful for each one of them. I would take one lens out for an excursion and when I had felt there was nothing left I could photograph with it, I changed it out for another lens back in the parking lot. I was able to get some incredible macro shots and wide angle shots, and I have so many favorites, I had a difficult time choosing one to showcase here.

— Linda Dalton Walker