Photographing Sunrise at Barker Dam in Joshua Tree National Park

Sunday of the first
Sunday, January 29

Mary and I last saw water in Barker Dam in 2009.  With the drought in CA these past eight years, this particular photo has been elusive.  However, once you see this reflection shot, it’s like crack for photographers.  You want to make this photo over and over again.  We recently went to Joshua Tree two weekends in a row to try to get the best photo we could.  Here’s what happened.

Sunday, January 29th

Mary and I stayed in Twenty-nive Palms in the Best Western.  We were about 30 minutes or so from Barker Dam, plus a 15 minute walk.  We woke at 5:15 AM, thinking the best light would be 6:15-6:30 AM.

To our surprise, there was already a couple there who had spent the night making star trails.  We were joined by another three photographers, so there were seven of us.  To make the photo below with the foreground, there really is only 2 good spots for a tripod.

Sunday of the first
Sunday, January 29

It was clear and cold, so we did get a pretty nice band of Venus and earth shadow (see cover photo)

Saturday, February 4th

Saturday, February XXX
Saturday, February 4 before the good light

The panorama above is what you see when you arrive.  The dead tree in the middle of the frame was a major obstacle to shoot around.  Mary and I stayed on the right side of this photo.  We also noticed that the lake had receded about three feet in one week.  You can see the water lines in the bottom right corner.

We were so freaked out about the previous Sunday and being inundated with many photographers, we got up at 5 AM and rushed there from the Best Western in Joshua Tree.

Sunrise was about 6:30 AM.  The best light was from 6:15 – 6:45 AM.  I like having the rocks light up a bit, but Mary is not a fan of that look.

There were no other photographers, so Mary and I had the whole place to ourselves for 45 glorious minutes.  What a treat.

Saturday, February 4
Saturday, February 4

Sunday, February 5th

We have full time jobs.  Josh is about 90 minutes from our house, so we can not just get up and go anytime we want.  We really wanted a better sky than we had the last two sunrises.

Again, the 5 AM wake up call came and we struggled again to get out to the Dam as early as possible.  It was pitch black and cold, but we soldiered on.  When we arrived we found two photographers already there and another one joined us a few minutes later.

Sometimes, landscape photographers can be quite unfriendly as we jockey for position to get the best composition.  These two guys turned out to be friendly and hilarious.  They worked for Nikon and were on their way to Las Vegas for a convention.  After a few minutes of banter, we realized that we all knew Bill Fortney.  Four photographers meet in the woods and we had just one degree of separation.  It is a small photography world.

We finally got the shot! – reflection with pinkies in the sky and water.

Second Sunday
Sunday, February 5

We usually are done by 7 AM and then off to breakfast at the Crossroads Cafe.  This is the best breakfast spot in Joshua Tree…great food and service.

Remember to check the weather.  It was in the mid-30s the mornings we were out there.  You can also check the sky cover and wind speeds on the NOAA site.

Here is our very popular blog post about a Weekend in Joshua Tree.

Here is our last blog post about 24 hours in Joshua Tree.

To see more of (and buy) our photographs, please go to


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s