Aztec Adventures scales Joshua Tree

The true beauty of Joshua Tree is best seen atop the highest boulders at night.
The true beauty of Joshua Tree is best seen atop the highest boulders at night.
There’s just something about being out in the middle of a beautiful place with a camera that never gets old. Maybe that’s an obvious and cliché statement, but it’s true. This past November I had the opportunity to head out to Joshua Tree National Park with Aztec Adventures to shoot a short documentary following one of their very popular Rock Climbing outings. The adventure started on a Friday around noon, and right off the bat I could tell the documentary was going to be good. Within three hours we were closing in on our campsite, and already the images were spectacular. The high desert landscape was painted by a declining orange sun and a sky of purple clouds. It was a sight to see, and of course, to photograph. As soon as we rolled up to the campsite, the group started setting up camp and making dinner. On the menu was the ever-delectable Aztec Adventure vegetarian chili. Now typically when I hear the word vegetarian, I’m a little suspicious, but after eating, I was sold. I just had to remind myself to get a few good shots of the chili being eaten before it was all gone!

After dinner we headed off on a “night hike”, which turned out to be an exploration of an extremely large and complex rock formation that required some serious maneuverability. Squeezing through slight gaps in the rocks, I didn’t think we were going to make it through. In retrospect, I was putting my camera in some pretty delicate situations, but the shots that I got were well worth the tight fit. It wasn’t until the very last maneuver that an on-camera light of mine met its peril as it fell into an abyss of rocks (R.I.P.). Luckily for me I was distracted by a night sky of stars like I had never seen before, so of course my first reaction was that I had to shoot a time-lapse. Once we got back to camp I set up my camera on the tripod, and pointed it towards the sky. Utilizing a thirty second exposure, and by taking a picture every minute for over an hour an a half, I captured amazing celestial movement. What made the time-lapse even more unique was that I framed some rock formations to the bottom third of the frame so that as the campfire burned, and car lights illuminated the rocks, the formation flickered between shades of orange and blue. Without a doubt, this was the most impressive time lapse I have ever shot. I guess that’s what happens when you go to Joshua Tree and look up at the sky.

Over the next two days the group headed into the National Park for some serious world class climbing. Just getting to the climbing spot, or ‘crag’, was a blast. Whether you’re simply driving through the park, gearing up outside the van, or hiking the access trail, everywhere you look in Joshua Tree is another spectacular scene. I found it hard at times to keep up with the group, as I kept wanting to stop to take more shots! During the climbing days I spent most of my time getting shots of the group climbing, but of course, I jumped on the wall more than a few times. At one point I was even roped up, suspended over the edge of the rock face shooting down at the climbers. That was probably the most unnatural, yet exhilarating rush of the trip for me. After our second day of climbing, everyone was exhausted and ready to jump in the van to head back to state, but I had one more shot up my sleeve: the slow walk. So I sent the group about fifty yards down this classic Joshua Tree dirt road and told them to round a corner and walk straight at the camera. The camera was set to shoot at sixty frames per second so that when slowed down, the movement would be ever so smooth. If you’ve already watched the video, you know what scene I’m talking about. If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch it, it’s borderline epic and I’d recommend checking it out.

Overall, this Aztec Adventure was more than just a three day trip. For me, it was an opportunity to combine some of my passions together. Traveling to Joshua Tree, being in the outdoors, spending time with interesting people, and of course making movies, what more could a videographer hope for? Outside of the project, I also developed an appreciation for what Aztec Adventures really is. The experience of an Aztec Adventure outing is something that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. I think too often it’s easy to get caught up in life, and everything that goes with that. But when you’re on an outing you remind yourself to breathe a little bit, and to just enjoy yourself. Oh, and I also forgot to mention: it’s really, really fun.

– CJ Capes, Videographer, Aztec Recreation Center

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