Joshua Tree at Lee Flat
Death Valley, CA
The National Parks Service describes Death Valley as the “hottest, driest, and lowest national park” with steady drought and record summer heat - and to many, much of the park is destitute and void of natural beauty. However, beauty can be found almost anywhere - if you know where to look.
However, in the middle of absolute nowhere, in the most barren part of Death Valley you will find the wonder that is the Joshua Tree grove at Lee Flat. This vast forest of twisted, spiky trees looks like a scene straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Miles and miles of pristine Joshua trees and surrounding mountain ranges provide unlimited photographic opportunities.
If you like star gazing and astrophotography, Lee Flat is a perfect place as the Joshua Trees make for a great foreground and the dark skies illuminate the stars like few other places. And if you like to get off the beaten track and enjoy seeing unmarred natural landscapes, Lee Flat is a place you won't regret.
Trail Difficulty (3 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). Although the distance to the Joshua Tree grove is an easy walk from the parking area – the travel to this location can be challenging as the road is old (previously paved), bumpy, rocky and sandy toward the end. I would suggest a 4 wheel drive vehicle for the last mile or so.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
1,024 Ft Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to Lee Flat Joshua Tree grove.
The Lee Flat Joshua tree grove is VERY REMOTE and miles away from any community or resources. The closest community is Panamint Springs (very small community with a restaurant, gas station, campsite and a small motel) about 23 miles away. The closest town is Lone Pine, CA about 46 miles away.
Directions from Lone Pine, CA - travel east on CA 136 for 17 miles until it turns into CA 190. Continue on CA 190 traveling east for another 17 miles until you reach the Saline Valley Alt Route.
Take a left at the Saline Valley Alt Rd and travel on this old, previously pave, road for 4.7 miles until you reach a split in the road. At the split, stay left on White Mountain Talc Rd for 4.2 miles until you come to a dirt road on the right (at this point the road gets sandy, so a 4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended for the last mile). Travel on this dirt road for about a mile and you will see a parking area on the right. This is a good place to set up.
You will be surrounded by thousands of mostly pristine Joshua trees which can be used for great compositions. The trees in the picture above is about 100 yds south of the parking area.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For me the best time to shoot the Joshua trees are at sunset/dusk, sunrise/pre-dawn or at night or astrophotography (with some light painting).
Best Time of Year to Shoot
You can shoot Joshua trees any time of year (as long as the road is open), but if you want to shoot the trees with the Milky Way, the best time of year is spring and summer.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
There are many, many compositions you can pick using the Joshua Trees. However, to accentuate the trees you would be best to shoot with an ultra wide (11-16mm lens).
Once you have paid for the admission into Death Valley Park, there are no permits required.
Direction of the Shot
You can shot at any direction in this Joshua Tree grove. The shot below was taken southeast @ around 150°.
Special Nuances of Shot
From a composition standpoint, you have endless opportunities. I would strongly recommend arriving early and scouting out the best locations before sunset or evening. If you are going to shoot astrophotography, it is very difficult to focus in total darkness.
Again, to accentuate the trees it is best to get down low to the ground and shoot upward with an ultra wide angle lens. I have also seen other very good images of Joshua Trees with telephoto lens and a more compressed look.
Special Equipment Needed
As mentioned, Lee Flat is MILES and MILES from any community and there are no resources within 25 miles. Make sure you come prepared with a GPS and enough fuel, liquid and snacks in case you get stuck or lost. There is no cell service at this location.
From a photography standpoint, you will want a good tripod and a dusting tool to keep the sand off your lenses. If you are going to shoot astro photography, it would be helpful to have a SOFT light source if you want to paint the trees.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
This spot is VERY REMOTE and it would be unlikely to see any other photographers in this area.
Obviously, temperatures in Death Valley during the summer are EXTREME and should always be taken seriously. However, temperatures in the spring and fall are modest and winters can be very cold (down to the 20’s). If you are out hiking, it is important to know that the temperatures can drop dramatically after the sun goes down.
I use Verizon, and there is no cell service at Lee Flat, CA.
As mentioned, the closest towns/communities are Lone Pine, CA (46 miles away) and Panamint Springs (26 miles away). There is a campground and hotel at Panamint Springs and plenty of lodging and camping in Lone Pine.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
40440 Highway 190, Panamint Springs, CA
Whitney Portal Hostel
238 S Main, Lone Pine, CA
Best Western Plus Frontier Motel
1008 S Main St, Lone Pine, CA
There is a restaurant/watering hole at Panamint Springs that serves a good pizza and cold beer. In Lone Pine there are several places to eat - for breakfast or lunch I like either the Alabama Hills Café or The Grill. Another very good option is Castro’s Taco Stand (right on main street) - they have great street tacos at a good price.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Panamint Springs Restaurant
40440 Highway 190, Panamint Springs, CA
Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery
111 W Post, Lone Pine, CA
206 S Main St, Lone Pine, CA
In Lone Pine, CA there is a coin laundry mat right next to the Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery on West Post.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest major airports to Lone Pine, CA are: 1) Ontario, CA (ONT) which is 200 miles south and 2) Los Angeles, CA (LAX) which is 215 miles south and then west.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise and moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.
Here is a link to a great resource for all things Zion National Park (Joe Braun’s Zion National Park visitor’s website).
Here are other great reference sites - Death Valley National Park