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  • Brendan McKay

Hi(gh) Desert Vibes

I have a pretty bad habit of getting major tunnel vision when work gets crazy, and these last few weeks have been no exception - my daily routine starts with a robotic sequence of a 5:45am wake up, somehow making a decent cup of coffee in a groggy haze, and immediately checking and replying to email. It's a feeling I'm familiar with at this point - a brain barely firing on one cylinder and a mental gear train clunking away angrily at not being given enough time to warm up. Before you know it it's 9:30, I've wolfed down a few donuts for breakfast, and the specter of a relaxing start to the day is long gone.

Which is why our recent trip out to Palms Springs over the July 4th weekend couldn't have come at a better time. Our plan consisted of relatively little - mostly hanging by the pool, and for me, reading whatever Dirk Pitt/Clive Cussler novel I could find on my Libby library app. With afternoon temps hitting 110 it was an awesome venue for forced decompression. Numerous midday poolside beers at The Kimpton Rowan helped a lot too.

Prior to leaving, I knew we were going to be taking a quick trip into Joshua Tree National Park before heading up to Pioneertown for Tex Mex at Pappy and Harriet's (a place and restaurant deserving of a post unto its own at some point). I have long admired James Stacey's (resident senior writer for HODINKEE and Co-host of the Grey NATO podcast - check him out if you don't already know him) photography, as there is a lot of overlap with the things that I love and love to shoot - cars, watches, adventure, etc. I reached out to him for a lens rental recommendation for our trip out to the high desert and he steered me in the direction of Sigma. I couldn't have been happier with my choice, a Sigma 35mm f1.4 E-Mount for my Sony a6000 - its sort of incredible what a non-stock lens will do to clarity and crispness, and I think its going to be hard going back to the Sony lens after this. The only drawback was the heft but it was worth lugging around at the end of the day.

Pure old school


We were heading into Rancho Mirage one afternoon to see my brother and some friends at a house they were renting and we drove by this dusty dirt lot that had a few amazing long bodies from the 80's. The light was blinding when we drove by at 2 in the afternoon but I told myself I'd sneak back over around dusk to try out the new lens, and damn - these things looked amazing in the dying desert light.


Our J Tree jaunt was a quick one this time given the temps. Even when we showed up at 5:30 it was still high 90's and the sun was too high to do much in the way of sunset photography or take some shots of the Joshua trees back into the light. I attempted a few bloggy-esque shots with light filtering through the tree branches and foliage but the burnout was just too much to handle. Nevertheless I had some fun shooting at f1.4, which was way lower than anything else I had ever done before. Note to self to move away from manual focus in some situations, particularly when I was trying to get some shots of my wife walking around. I've loved shooting in manual focus lately since it really forces you to set up your shots, but subject matter is quick to go in and out of focus...particularly my wife, who normally walks around at a pace that I'd equate to a brisk jog.

Off the beaten path

High desert flora

Pack out

Our four day staycation was such an awesome reminder to get back into a more intentional routine of waking up and spending a few moments to just be, rather than hitting the accelerator out of the blocks. It's tough for me to balance the ideal reality of relaxation and reflection early on in the day with "real" reality, but then you remember that a lot of this stuff is in your control at the end of it all. Creating space for existence is just a matter of letting the engine idle a bit before bringing everything up to the redline.

After all, mornings are for coffee, and contemplation. Coffee...and contemplation (Flo).

Until next time

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