Pinto Basin near the center of the park on the Colorado Desert. Done with my phone in the middle of the day.
A journey, any journey, is an ever evolving thing. No matter how well you plan one, the one thing you can pretty much count on for sure is that your plan is going to change. That’s one reason I didn’t plan this in any great detail before I left. The idea was to just go and let the journey sort itself out.
This first month out is more or less a shakedown period for me. Right now I can sit tight here and figure out how much I need in the way of supplies. I have to budget for a month at a time — my basic bills like phone and car insurance, how much food I need every week, how much stove fuel I’ll burn a month and things like that are things I need to determine. That will in turn determine my travel budget.
I had initially thought to roam around a pretty good sized area — Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Mojave Preserve, and surrounding areas, but the distances involved are considerable and the gas costs will limit my travels. I can live within my budget if I don’t roam too much. And that’s alright.
I’ve decided for now, and probably for at least the next couple of months, to stay here around Joshua Tree for a couple of reasons. The budget of course, but I also like the idea of spending time in a place and getting to know it rather than bouncing around to a lot of different places and not really getting to know any of them. I’m a firm believer in the idea that strong meaningful photography comes from connection to place. Joshua Tree can keep me busy for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to that.
I’ve set up camp near the south entrance to Joshua Tree, down on the Colorado Desert side of the park. The park is roughly divided in half — north and west is the Mojave Desert, south and east is the Colorado with a transition zone where the two merge. They are two different worlds.
The more popular and well known part of the park is up on the Mojave side where the familiar rock formations are and where the Joshua tree grows. You don’t find the Joshua down on the Colorado — it only grows up on the Mojave. the low desert is a totally different environment.
I drove up onto the edge of the Mojave the other day to look around. I walked around a bit, open-mouthed, marveling at the wild rock formations. It’s heaven on earth for a rock lover like me. I saw this lone Joshua standing like a lookout on the edge of his domain, so of course I stopped to say hello and to take a quick photo with my phone. There will be more, and better ones, as I start to explore and dig in deeper. But hey… I have to start a series of my experiences in Joshua Tree with a quick portrait of the park’s namesake, right?
Okay, it’s Thanksgiving Day, and I hope you’re all taking some time to reflect on all you have to be thankful for. I know I am, and being here in this place with time to explore and begin to get to know it is pretty high on my list. Here’s wishing you all a good, peaceful, reflective holiday, and thanks for your thought and ideas and participation here. I do love to hear from you.
The journey has begun. I’m perched here about a quarter mile from Joshua Tree NP, about five miles by road from the south entrance. Here’s a photo of what I have to put up with when I wake up in the morning…
I left LA Thursday and spent that night and the next morning with Greg Russell and his family. I’ve gotten to know Greg both and online and a couple of times in person, and not to gush, he and his family are truly fine and decent human beings. He’s pretty darn good with words and photos too. Could there have been a better way to start out this adventure? I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
I stocked up on a few supplies in Riverside and Moreno Valley Friday morning, and set off in early afternoon for Joshua Tree. It wasn’t long before I ran into torrential rain. I passed by a casino, Morongo Resort, that I’ve read about that has a back lot reserved for RV’s and overnighters and decided if the rain doesn’t let up I can turn around and pull in there for the night. I drove a few more miles and the rain got worse. I turned around. Morongo encourages overnighters because they figure you’ll go in and spend some money, so I did. I went in and gambled away three bucks, had some free coffee, and went back to the Jeep to sleep. I’m a real high-roller.
I got to the park Saturday morning and immediately went up to the visitor center to buy my senior pass and ask the ranger some dumb questions.Then I set out to find a place for a base camp. Now I’m here at a place called Chiriaco Summit. It’s a truck and tourist stop on I-10 between Arizona and the LA area with pretty good services — food, gas, water, bathrooms and the like. Even a post office. There’s a free area about a quarter mile behind it where you can dry camp for a couple of weeks at a time. You can leave for a night after two weeks and come back and do it again if they even really care. It’s not real busy. I could do that all winter if I wanted to.
Right now I’m content to just kick back for a few days, stretch out, tune in to the desert a bit, catch up on some blog activity, and do some writing. Then I’ll start exploring the park.
I also need to figure how much everything I need to do will cost so I can plan some kind of budget. I might not be able to roam as much as I had originally thought — gas is a major expense — but that’s alright. I don’t have any set schedule, any itinerary, any place I have to be at any certain time. I’d be perfectly happy to stay put and start to get to know this area. That’s not a bad place to be. Neither is Joshua Tree. More to come…
Today’s the day. I’m off. I’m leaving LA behind. Well, that’s not entirely true I guess — I’ll be coming to the city occasionally over the next few months to connect with my daughter, but I won’t be living here. I’m off to the desert. In a few hours I’ll be pointing my Jeep east to whatever may lay in store.
First stop will be Riverside. I’m going to meet up with friend, fellow blogger and ebook co-author Greg Russell. I intend to pick his brain as clean as I can about the area out there, mostly the area around Joshua Tree for starters. It’ll be a pleasure to hook up with Greg again. I’m looking forward to it.
So… I’d better pack it up and get ready to move. Next post will probably be from somewhere around Joshua Tree. Look out Greg… here I come.
LA is quite a place. It’s a land of hustling and scheming… it’s a land of hoping and dreaming. Some dreams come true and take flight, others are crushed under a bus before they have the chance. It’s a land of unimaginable success and wealth on one hand, and equally unimaginable poverty and desperation on the other. And everything in between. It’s a 24/7 three-ring circus of sights and sounds and hustles. There are how many people here in southern California? Fifteen million? Twenty million? I don’t know for sure, but there is an enormous herd of humans milling around here, and everybody is trying to hustle a buck. Myself included. It’s worn me a bit thin.
The day after tomorrow I’m moving on. California has a wealth of natural wonders that few places can match. It’s time now for me to start getting to know them, at least a little bit. My reason for coming to LA almost three years ago has been pretty well taken care of. I came to help my daughter get prepared to go out on her own, to help launch her into young adulthood. She’s well on her way, and for me to stay here in the midst of her new life would amount to little more than hovering. She doesn’t need that, nor do I. It’s time to take my own life off the back burner and get busy working on the things that matter the most to me. Not that my kids don’t of course, but hey… you know what I mean.
Photography. Art. Wilderness. These are the things that make me tick. I’m going to head out into the desert and let it start seeping into my consciousness, let it start washing the last few years I spent in the city out of my system, and I’m in no hurry. I’d gladly sit in one place all winter staring at rocks if that’s what it took. It won’t, but I would. It’s time now to resume work on these things that matter to me.
I’ll uncase my camera, and get back to work on making photographs. I’ll no doubt go through a phase of those surface shots like I call them, I’ll do some simply as a sort of scrapbook of my travels, something to look back on and remember. With a bit of time I should be able to start putting together some solid work that expresses the feeling I get out in the desert. I look forward to getting busy again with some meaningful photography.
I’m going to get myself a fat notebook or two and a pack of pens and start writing my impressions and experiences down, as well as taking some time to digest the time I spent in LA and putting it into words the best I can. I’ll have time and the space to reflect on it once I’ve managed to cut myself loose from it. I know I’ll get a clearer picture of it from the perspective of the desert. Right now I’m still too close to it.
So… onward I go. It’s time to get back to work, time to put my efforts into those things that are most important to me. I don’t have time to waste on anything else. And that’s the way it is.
I thought as long as I’m still here for a few days, I might as well post one more photo from LA. This is a quiet morning on Wilshire Boulevard before the daily ruckus begins.
So… I have a journey ahead of me. It starts with a few months in the California desert, but that’s just the beginning. The journey will continue for the rest of my life, however long that may be. Finding ways to keep it going should prove challenging and interesting.
I’ve never been all that fascinated by money. I don’t generally waste a lot of time talking about it — it’s just not that interesting to me. At the same time, I don’t think money is anything to be secretive about either. Face it — a certain amount is necessary to function in this society of ours, whatever kind of life you choose to live. I do think that tossing around ideas about creative and different ways to bring in some income can lead to some valuable discussion. Who knows what doors it might open?
Like I said, a few of the things I’m doing now are over in the sidebar — donations, cards and calendars, and some affiliate links. All have generated a trickle of income. I’m suspending print sales for the time being simply because I won’t be able to make them for awhile. The gallery site will remain live with links to the cards and calendars on redbubble, but no prints will be available for the time being. New stuff I do, and decide to work with, can be uploaded there as I go along and I can continue to build up a selection. The best of those I can set aside to work into prints when I’m set up to do that again.
I’ve also signed up with a temp agency that serves the printing industry. I was a small-press operator for years, but it’s a dying industry. Huge printing plants are going strong, but the small shops are dropping like flies. Home computers have killed off a lot of what I used to do. The agency serves shops out in the desert towns as well as LA, and they get calls now and then for short-term help. They don’t stay busy enough to hire full-time help, but once in awhile they get a flurry of activity where they need some help for a week or two. Possibilities there, but of course no guarantees.
Another thing that stirs my blood is books, both ebooks and real hold in your hand and turn the pages books. With the advances in online self-publishing, preparing and uploading a book for on-demand publishing isn’t as daunting a task as it once was. I can work on that too during my travels.
Those are just a handful of possibilities… there are no doubt countless more that I’m not even aware of yet. Feel free to chime in with any thoughts and ideas you might have.
This post (and the next one) have little to do with photography, except for what I hope to do with it on my travels in the desert. This is more about what needs to happen to make it all work, what I need to do to make it happen, and just as importantly, what I need to not do. Maybe you’ll find it interesting and relevant to your own situation, maybe not. Either way, rather than bore you with one long post, I’ll break it into two parts and bore you with two shorter ones. Here’s the first.
* * *
As always, one of the main challenges I’m facing is how to keep enough income flowing to fund the next several months… and for that matter beyond. I’ve spent a good part of my life living on a frayed shoestring. Now is no different.
I decided to retire last spring when I turned 62. I started receiving my Social Security a few months ago, though it’s not very much. It’s enough to cover my basics but doesn’t leave me much wiggle room. I need to supplement it, and I’m going to do that through this blog. I’m not talking about any shady get-rich-quick schemes or anything like that — I have no use for those. Besides, I’m already rich… I just need to bring in a little more money.
I’ve applied for a number of jobs over the last couple of years, and the response has been pretty standard… well, um, we’ll let you know. My age is a factor. I know it is, they know it is, but it’s something that can’t be said in job interviews. When there are literally hundreds of applicants for any given job opening, what would you do if you were the one hiring? Choose a cranky senior like me or a young eager beaver fresh out of school, some of who may be young enough to be my grandkid? Yeah… I’d probably take the youngster too. It’s a fact of life and I hold no hard feelings. To be honest about it, I usually leave with a sense of relief. None of it is blatant or provable, and even if it was I wouldn’t bother pursuing it. I have better things to do.
I’ve come to grips too with the fact that at this point in my life I’m basically unemployable anyway. When I interview, I let it be known right up front that if I sell my time to someone they need to meet certain standards or they don’t qualify as an employer in my book. The result is usually uncomfortable squirming — sometimes even hostility on their part — and a quick exit on mine. How dare I talk to them that way? That’s probably more a factor than my age. I can live with that.
I could continue to look here in LA, and eventually I’d no doubt be able to dig something up, but then I’d either have to rent an apartment again or live in my car on the streets just so I could go to work. Neither one is an option anymore. Like I said I have better things to do.
So… working at a steady job isn’t part of the picture. Being out on the loose in the desert is, and at least partially funding my travels through my efforts here on this blog is. A couple of the ways I’m doing that are already in place over on the sidebar, and I’ll go into it more in a couple of days. In the meantime, keep in touch.
pj johnson — photographer
how you can help
An important part of this journey will be raising funds through this blog. Whether we like it or not, the fact is we need money to do things. I have three ways below in this sidebar that you can help if you're willing and able.
First, I have a selection of notecards and a calendar available through Redbubble, and the selection will be growing as I add new work.
I also have some affiliate links, and again I will be adding a few more. If you regularly buy from these places, it would be a wonderful thing if you went there through these links. It won't cost you any more and I make a small commission from every sale made through this site. It all helps.
Then I have a crowdfunding page at GoFundMe where you can simply donate. Any amount, and 10% of all money raised will in turn be donated to NPCA on behalf of our national parks.
You will find links to all of that below, and thanks in advance for your support.
you can follow my desert adventures at twitter too…
Simply put, buying through the links below will help fund my travels. Please do so... and don't worry. It's safe and secure.
for your bookshelf
portable solar chargers