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Saguaro, Joshua Tree, And The Joy Of Shooting Survivors

I grew up watching cartoons depicting the Saguaro Cactus, an iconic symbol for the American Southwest. I’d include a photo if I had one, but I’ve never seen one in person and it's time to change that, my wait is over. This March, I'm Arizona Bound & looking forward to new landscapes to shoot which are much different than the Northeast Landscapes where I'm from. So, a photo adventure awaits to explore the Sonoran Desert (or at least a small portion of it), and whenever you have an adventure to look forward to, life is always more flavorful.

Saguaro National Park (pronounced: suh·waa·row) is divided into two parks, an East Park, and a West Park, with the city of Tucson dividing the parks. I’m meeting two friends, Mark Camp, & Bruce Clark, and Tucson will be our base camp for three days before heading west to Joshua Tree NP, with plans to spend two additional days on the way back.


Many of you know Mark Camp from my videos, but not Bruce. Bruce specializes in B&W Landscapes, and is the creator of 70 By 70: A Photographer's Bucket List, and one heck of a genius idea! His pursuit of 70 Photography goals before reaching 70 years of age is quite motivating - really, you have to read the list. And after this trip, he'll reward himself by checking off, not one National Park, but two! Saguaro NP, & Joshua Tree NP.


You can visit his 70 By 70 project here:


Check out his B&W work at his website: Bruce Clark Photography 


The three of us will explore and photograph the unique beauty of the Southwest, but not without plenty of laughs. I’m already getting a foreshadowing of warnings from my so-called buddies, that they may accidentally... bump me into a giant cactus, take my gear, and leave me for dead. Wow, who needs enemies with friends like these? If nothing else, it makes for great videos and storytelling, but all joking aside, the Saguaro Cactus, along with its other large relatives, are quite amazing.


These species have some incredible facts, Did you know:


By 70 years of age, a saguaro cactus can reach 6 and a half feet tall, and will finally start to produce their first flowers. By 95-100 years in age, a saguaro cactus can reach a height of 15-16 feet, and could start to produce its first arm. - NPS

Quite extraordinary, and to think they grow upwards of 45 feet, with the largest recorded at 78 feet. Learn more at NPS: Saguaro Cactus

So what to pack? For this expedition, I plan to bring my 14-30mm ultra-wide lens (much lighter than the 14-24mm), my 24-70mm wide lens, and my 70-200mm telephoto with a 2X Teleconverter. My Macro lens would be nice but I don't want the extra weight. I'm considering an iPhone macro lens from Sandmarc though. I'm tempted to replace the 24-70 and 70-200 with my 24-200 which would shave 3.5 lbs (1.6 kgs) from my bag, I just don't have enough confidence in the lens at this time, despite its good reviews and performance, I wasn't impressed with it from my PNW trip. Furthermore, it's not compatible with my teleconverter and an extra 200 mm of focal length may come in handy in the desert. Side note: I'd like to thank Tony C for this paragraph. He recently signed up for my newsletter and asked for advice about what to pack for a trip he's planning. Thanks for the idea Tony!


From Tucson, we'll head west for some 6 hours to visit Joshua Tree National Park, a place that I've been fond of since my 20's. To think I'm just now going to embark on this long-awaited journey. What took me so long? Not to mention it was my friend Mark Camp's suggestion otherwise who knows when I would have made it there. It shows how we put things aside for much too long, and then expect them to just happen.

Can I whisper in your ear for a moment? You know that trip you've wanted to take to [ Fill in the Blank Here ]? How many years has it been? Now's the time; get busy living, or get busy dying. The most difficult part is to just start. Begin by Googling your desired place of interest, and just go from there with the intent to follow through. Remember, Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.


As much as I'll enjoy shooting Cacti in the Sonoran Desert, The Mojave Desert might just be the highlight. Joshua Tree NP has jumbles of interesting rock formations and of course, the Joshua Trees.

One of my favorite subjects to shoot, are ensembles of trees and rocks, in particular, trees that grow over, through, or on top of granite. It stops me in my tracks every time,

especially a lone tree, and I get overly excited about where to begin.


The wonder of how life finds a way, these trees, over thousands of years of evolution, have adapted to their environment seeking whatever nutrients they can find by rock substrate and weathering. I like to call them Survivors and hope to one day have an entire portfolio of Trees and Rocks in perfect harmony. The tree below kept me mesmerized from a trip to Yosemite's High Country. I shot it from every angle and still couldn't get enough. I suppose I'll discover some incredible Cacti Survivors on this trip, and if they happen to have an arm or two, I'll know they've been surviving the hostile Sonoran desert for some 95-100+ years! That's quite impressive and well worth making a photograph.

So the next time you visit a beautiful place, look for survivors who make their home in what appear to be impossible environments to thrive, Alpine regions, Deserts, Forests, Swamps, etc, and approach your subject with respect and amazement, knowing you're merely passing through - a short visit or glimpse in time, an incomplete look at what these extraordinary species have to endure throughout the ages, and carefully craft your image[s] to tell their story, and how they've weathered each storm, every season, animals and humans alike. They are nature's survivors, and they give back to us in many ways, including the very air we breathe.

A Gorgeous Juniper Tree, Rooted On Top a Granite Dome in the Sub-Alpine Region at Olmsted Point, Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP. A Survivor.


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