An empty road at 2am, winding through the chilled sand plains of southern California. A freight train roaring to our left lighting the night sky with beams of white. We match speed at 50mph and briefly become one machine. The stars are brilliant specks in the blackness above, and the crescent moon hangs orange and unusually enormous. The conductor lets out a shrill whistle, and I accelerate on into the night. This is the scene that greets me upon my arrival to Niland, CA. My only regret is I didn't have the opportunity to photograph it.
Niland is the home of Salvation Mountain -- an enormous hunk of brightly painted adobe-on-straw in the barren desert between Slab City and Salton Sea and not far from the Mexico border. The Mountain was started in the 80s by Leonard Knight, a Korean War vet from Vermont. He faithfully added to it and protected it from the elements for as long as he could as a way to spread his passion for love and God. In 2011, he was moved to a care facility due to dementia, and he died February 10, 2014, at age 82. Due to the fragility of the structure and the absence of anyone to take Leonard's place, the preservation of the Mountain is at risk.
Okay, on to Joshua Tree National Park. Named for the yucca palm that is found in great numbers here, J-Tree has a lot to do and explore. You'll find mountains, canyons, cholla cactus gardens, giant boulder formations, vast Joshua tree plains, climbing, camping, stargazing, hiking, geology tours, Skull Rock (a rock that looks like a skull!), horseback riding, and majestic viewpoints. And the photography opportunities are limitless.