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Have You Seen Them?

By Jake Brouwer

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 wonder at.

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 years.

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


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