Joshua Tree Night Sky Photography

I’ve just returned from Joshua Tree National Park where I spent a week photographing with two of my photo buddies. We rented a house just outside the park boundary and spent five mornings and five nights exploring the beauty of the park which was transformed by March’s welcome rainfall. And although we saw and photographed a wide variety of scenes from the incredible blooms of desert wildflowers to the expressive shapes of the Joshua Trees and rock formations, what is most memorable are the two evenings at Joshua Tree when we photographed the night sky. The higher altitude and the isolation from urban light pollution provided us a magical, crystal-clear view of the stars and the moon during those evenings.

Our first venture was a trip to Hidden Valley around 5AM to await the rising of the waning crescent moon. The moon startled us when it suddenly arose to our east about 30 minutes before sunrise. This was the first moonrise I had witnessed in the desert. I cannot describe the feeling except to say I felt very small as I fumbled with my camera, trying to make the correct exposure as the moon lifted above the horizon.

The moon in the night sky at joshua tree national park

The next evening we arose even earlier, leaving the warmth of our house at 4 AM to look for the Milky Way. We expected it to be visible in the southern sky. This kind of photography was trickier because long exposures were required and working as a group, we had to be careful not to spill light from our flashlights or camera sensors into each other’s scenes.  I was able to get a couple of credible exposures, one each of the Milky Way and then the Big Dipper in the northern sky. Click on any of the photographs on this page to see more detailed larger versions.

The Milky Way in the night sky at joshua tree national park

The Big Dipper in the night sky at joshua tree national park


Several mornings later, while walking near Lost Horse Wall, a popular rock-climbing destination, my eye was drawn to several delicate seed-heads glowing brightly  like stars on the darkened desert floor. I couldn’t help but thinking how much the tiny world reminds me of the vastness of the cosmos. Stars above, stars below!

A seedhead resembles a star in the night sky at joshua tree national park

14 comments on “Joshua Tree Night Sky Photography

  1. Marty — The first image, the rising crescent moon, is simply stunning. The composition is just about perfect and a bit of color really adds to the feeling. Thanks for posting! Frank

    • Frank,
      Thanks for the positive words. You know I rarely do color, let alone ever show it. This time, though, I felt the glow of the coming sunrise added an emotional quality I couldn’t quite get in the black and white version.

  2. Dear Marty — my old stomping grounds and you captured the other worldly essence I saw and felt so many nights out there. Thank you for carrying on and capturing new scenes and scenery. Tami

    • Tami,
      One of these days I’ll also photograph that place you told me about. It’s really not that far from Joshua Tree, so I hope to catch it on the next trip out. Thanks for looking and writing to me.

  3. Marty:
    Once again, your photos are excellent. Your night sky photos are stunning. We visited Joshua Tree in February and enjoyed photographing too. Joshua Tree is the kind of place we always like to revisit. We like it better than Anza Borrago – but Anza is good too.


    • Thanks, John-
      These photos have stirred up some positive comments. I appreciate that you’ve taken time to look and let me know you like.

    • Ed,
      Got your death valley carpet of flowers photo. Thank you… Just incredible when a little rain hits these places. I will eventually publish some of my desert flowers on the blog.

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