Many of us tend
to just pass by and miss the beauty of the Joshua tree as we trek
back and forth to work on our busy freeways and local avenues. Some
of us here in the high desert are lucky enough to have one or more
of them in our back yards, and in some places there are groves to
The Joshua tree was so named by the Mormon pioneers because it
resembled the Profit Joshua from the Old Testament as he raised
his hands waving them on towards the Promised Land. It is officially
known as Yucca brevifoli. This native of the Mojave Desert and
the extreme southwest can grow to heights of forty feet, but won't
be found elsewhere on the planet. Its trunk can be from one to
three feet in diameter. The Joshua's leaves are evergreen and
spiky, and if you have ever accidentally brushed up against one,
I am sure you got the point, and were more careful from then on.
Rare early Photochrom photograph comes
home to Hesperia. (From the authors collection)
This past month perhaps the earliest known colorized photographic
images of the Joshua Tree has come home to Hesperia where it was
taken around 1900 by a Detroit Publishing Co. photographer. In
1898 it was famed photographer William Henry Jackson who teamed
up with Detroit Publishing to become the only American firm to
license the process known as Photochrom. Jackson's partnership
gave leave of his extraordinary archive of negatives to Detroit
Publishing to further popularize his photographic work in the
United States. The image most likely was photographed by the master
himself and is seen here for perhaps the first time in over 90
Photochrom was developed in the late 1880's, and won a gold medal
at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris. In a world of black and
white images the full color prints produced were amazing to those
fortunate enough to see them. The process is quite involved and
requires that a bitumen layer is applied to lithographic stones
and then exposed to light through a continuous tone negative.
Four to twelve lithographic stones (each weighing about 65 pounds)
were used to make each print.
This image with gilt lettering at the bottom was given the number
51221 by Detroit Publishing Co., and the name "Yucca-cactus,
at Hesperia, California." It measures 3 ½ x 7 inches.
It was purchased this past month for an undisclosed amount by
the author who lives in Hesperia. Brouwer said, "I was glad
to bring it home to Hesperia."
Imagine if you will a lone photographer on the way to Los Angeles
around the turn of the century and stopping for but a moment in
time to photograph this thing of beauty in Hesperia, California,
for the world to see, and know the beauty of the high desert.
Imagine, you today driving by them every day. Have you seen them?
Have you seen this thing of beauty?
First printed in the Daily Press November 17, 2002