ECLIPSED Joshua Tree National Park, California
At 7:01 pm, February 21, 2008, the shadow of the Earth covered the moon entirely, and the moon was in total eclipse. An hour earlier, my sister Melissa and I realized we were lost in the rocky wilds of Joshua Tree National Park – with no food or water, in the dark, soaking wet from rain – on an evening that would dip to temperatures in the 30’s.
How did this happen?
Much easier than you might expect.
I wanted to photograph the eclipse, so as the night approached, Moosie and I made plans to go to Joshua Tree – camp-out, and capture a dynamic image of the Earth’s shadow swallowing the full moon.
We got there early in the day and spent a couple of hours looking for the perfect campsite – one where I could shoot the moon within a short walk of the site, and ideally with some sort of shade and protection from the elements. We found a good spot and by early afternoon, we were unpacked and set-up in a campsite at Jumbo Rocks campground.
I spent a little time scouting out a location for the night eclipse composition that I had in mind. With the tents up, wood stacked, and coolers on the table, we had a few hours before nightfall, so headed out to explore.
We ended up at the Barker Dam parking area and figured we’d stretch the legs some and do a short hike, before heading back to camp for the night. There was a 1.6 mile hike that sounded good. I brought my camera bag and tripod (“just in case”) and nothing else. Moosie didn’t bring anything.
“We’ll be back in 30 minutes!” we thought..
Ten minutes into the hike – it turned darker.
15 minutes into the hike – it turned wet and rainy.
I put the rain cover over the camera bag and we continued, enjoying walking in the rain. We followed footprints that led us along a dried up wash, further into the maze of rocky outcrops that lead on for miles and miles.
At some point, we began to realize that we must be off the 1.6 mile loop, but we were still following footprints, and we both had a feeling the trail would spit us back out to the west, loop around and end up at the parking area, so we continued.
The light was fading quick, especially with the stormy skies. We quickened our pace, even trotting for awhile to cover more ground. The trail continued leading us north. We continued looking for a cut-back to the west.
At some point, 30-40 minutes into the hike and with approaching darkness, we stopped and had a quick conversation – deciding whether to continue forward, or turn back. We both agreed to continue forward.
Footprints. Gut-feeling’s. That’s what we did.
At some point, we began the mantra –
“We are not sleeping out here tonight.”
“We are not sleeping out here tonight.”
At some point, we came to realize –
“Oh shit, we are sleeping out here tonight!”
At that very moment – when we found ourselves lost in the dark, out in the wild nature, wet, scared – at that point, we turned and looked into a void, an abyss of black.
It drew us in.
We used the light of our phones to see that we were standing in a small, but protected little cave – just enough space for two people.
We backed out of the cave and saw, perfectly placed there, seemingly just for us in this instance – a dead, dried tree, standing off the wet ground, directly to the side of the entrance, probably the only dead dried tree anywhere in the near vicinity.
We both acknowledged this amazing moment of synchronicity – just when we were most in need, the universe provided.
A minute later we acknowledged that the temperature for the night would be in the 30’s, and we began to work on a fire – feeling extremely lucky to have had discovered a lighter buried away in the backpack.
30 minutes later we had a fire going.
60 minutes later we were in dry clothes.
Thankfully, we weren’t going to freeze and die of hypothermia.
The mood was subdued. We talked a bit about the preceding events, and about the direction we should follow in the morning. Based on what I knew of the map and layout of the park, I knew that we had to be correct in our direction – that leading out from this point would lead us further into the wild in three different directions – and that would quickly take our situation from bad to much worse. We had to choose our direction correctly.
At some point Moosie encouraged me to photograph the eclipse since there was a now-clear sky above our cave. “If we’re going to die out here, I may as well make one last photo.” I thought. So, I setup the camera and worked through making an exposure. The worry was real. The moment was real. It was heavy. But there for a bit, our focus turned to the magical, and surreal beauty of it all – and we watched as the moon went from deep faded red, gradually brighter and back to white.
With first light, we were up and heading out of the cave. Thirsty, we knelt down and drank water straight from small puddles – grateful for cool water to moisten our mouths. We followed our instincts, not the way we came because that path was lost. We went a new direction, rock hopping and bouldering our way forward, taking our time and moving carefully.
We rounded a corner and were both taken aback at the site before us – the full moon glowing a warm and brilliant orange, placed perfectly above the orange-red rocks of Joshua Tree – one of the most stunningly beautiful scenes I have ever seen, and I’ve seen many.
We enjoyed the fleeting scene.
Minutes later, the moon dropped out of view.
Shortly after, we spotted a dirt road. 20 minutes later – we were back to the truck. In silence, we headed back to the campsite, packed up the tents and the coolers and headed out of there and went home, thankful to be alive.
This became one of those bonding experiences that we had over the years – one of many, I am grateful to say.
Thankfully, most of them were not as dangerous or scary as this one.
I wanted to share this story with you – But, honestly – it feels so weird to be retelling it here now. The way the story is supposed to be retold, is when we both tell it together – her telling a couple of details, and then me jumping in to tell a part or two. Back and forth, enthusiastically recapping each little nuance and feeling. We would finish each others sentences when telling this story – and we did just that when retelling the story to some friends just a month ago while on another camping adventure in Maui, this time comfortably in a cabin in Haleakala crater.
It is obvious to see the many ways Moosie made my life – better – – brighter. Without hesitation I can say – She made me a better person.
Right now, life is in eclipse – in the shadow of Moosie’s passing away from this world. It is easy to feel hopeless in this darkness – focusing on the feeling of loss and fear. But, like that night in the cave when she encouraged me to photograph the eclipse, to turn outward and see the beauty in the moment, even in that uneasy time – I know that she is gently directing my focus that same way now.
The essence of her, the Spirit of Moosie will be teaching and guiding me for a lifetime, and I know the darkness of this eclipse – will pass.
MELISSA “MOOSIE” EGBERT
November 2, 1982 – October 29, 2016