Image courtesy of Luke Daniel Photo
Pictured above is Intersection Rock illuminated by the ethereal glow of a full moon in an unblemished night sky. Not pictured are seven coyotes and what I deemed to be a fox taunting us in a place where no one would hear us scream. Welcome to Joshua Tree after dark.
We came to see the kind of night sky we rarely get access to anymore. Every so often, I like to remind myself of my rightful place in the universe – a mere spec of a spec of a spec. Roaming around the monoliths unaided by any sort of artificial illumination felt good in a man vs. nature kind of way. Initially, I was careful to stay close to the car for fear of getting lost or stolen. But once my eyes adjusted to the low light, those fears turned into a daring spirit that has gotten me into a bit of trouble before.
During our trip to the Badlands last summer, Luke and I decided to do a night hike up to the top of a hill near our campground. All was going well until we reached the halfway point. The shiny eyeballs of the numerous ground-dwelling spiders were really freaking Luke out. Then he heard a suspicious noise, scanned the immediate area with his flashlight and found a massive bison casually hiding in the grass no more than 20 yards away. Our odds were good for a goring and we quickly retreated to the relative safety of our tent. The same tent that an even larger bison stomped and snorted by at close range the following morning.
On this particular evening in Joshua Tree, Luke wanted to photograph Intersection Rock, which required us to sneak into a day-use only area. Upon entering the parking lot, our headlights illuminated a coyote sniffing out the dumpster situation near the picnic tables. He quickly trotted off, annoyed by the intrusion. We waited in the car for a few minutes to make sure the coast was clear, then Luke got out and started setting up his tripod and camera.
Intersection Rock looks even lovelier in the moonlight than it does in the sunlight. Luke was busy rattling off frames when a chorus of unearthly, high-pitched cackles rose from the darkness. It started on our left and was echoed on our right. We were surrounded by chaos as the noise bounced off the rocks and back into the empty space from which it came. Suddenly, a little creature appeared in the taillights of our car. He looked like a small coyote or maybe a large fox. His message was received, loud and clear. Luke chucked his entire set-up into the backseat and we left the locals to their business.
These scenarios, along with a few unnamed others, could have misled us into thinking it’s wise to stay indoors at night. Instead, we learned that it’s okay to venture out into unfamiliar territory, as long as we acknowledge that we’re not the only ones out there, and act accordingly. In fact, it would probably do everyone a bit of good to apply this logic to their everyday lives.