I escaped the Phoenix area and my dissertation work for a weekend recently to Joshua Tree National Park in California. It is basically a big rock playground with flora and fauna unique to the Sonoran and Colorado deserts of the Southwest.
The first morning started with some scrambling up and down the rocks near Skull Rock.
The next stop was the cholla cactus area. These things look soft and fuzzy but they definitely hurt when part of the cactus gets stuck in your ankle while exploring off the trail...
While doing some off-pavement exploring, we were lucky to stumble upon a small group of desert bighorn sheep. The first one is a close up cropped from a larger image. In other words, I didn't get as close as it appears I did according to the first picture. Pretty awesome creatures...
Key's View overlooking the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault from the south edge of the mountains in the park.
The sunset was beyond spectacular and Joshua trees make a nice foreground to add some contrast to the blazing sky.
Last but not least, the stars out in the middle of the desert were fantastic as well. I hoped to have more star photos, but the combination of below freezing night time temperatures and long exposures drained my camera's batteries very quickly. Here are the stars from the campground at Jumbo Rocks with the campfires providing a red glow to the surrounding rocks.