I had a strong feeling to go to California with my best friend while I was on my evening run. God told me that was my next adventure. I wrote it down in the Notes app on my phone in the middle of my run. I wrote verbatim, “I want to go to California. With Lauren.” That was written on March 12, 2021. After that overwhelming feeling, I called my best friend Lauren that same night. I told her about the experience I had in the middle of my run, and how it stopped me in my tracks. I just really had this overwhelming feeling to go.
To my surprise, Lauren told me that it was completely ironic I said that because she just booked a trip to California with her siblings and insisted that I come too. I was so shocked. It seemed so clear to me that I should go, and with them. Her family has been my close family friends since I was in 1st grade. I would be going with Lauren (my best friend), her older sister Kristen, and her younger brother William. I would feel so comfortable traveling with them and I trust them with my life. I told Lauren that I would take off work and come, no question about it.
I felt so grateful that I was able to quickly get my flight in order and officially book my trip with them to California. It was so clear to me that it was meant to be in that moment. Lauren and I were ecstatic for this trip together. We both were so ready to create new art and photography in a completely new environment on the west coast of the United States. That would be my very first time to the west coast, after living on the east coast my whole life.
I flew from Tampa, Florida and met them in Los Angeles at LAX. We reunited with each other and went off to get our rental car. Our plan was to drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. The ride was about a little over 2 hours. It was so much fun for me to just take it all in. All the California views, west coast energy, and of course the In N Out burger stop we made, was all new to me. I loved having fresh eyes on a completely new place. That’s when I really feel like I am on an adventure.
We arrived to Joshua Tree and found our new home for the next few days, Moon Camp. All the credit for the Moon Camp goes to Kristen and Lauren. Kristen found the Moon Camp and thought it would be the perfect place to stay in Joshua Tree. Kristen showed Lauren and they were like okay we must stay here, no question. Kristen is so talented at planning trips and finding amazing locations to vacation. If you are a travel bug and love having a well rounded travel experience, please go here right now: https://passportsandpursuits.com/
This website is Kristen’s travel blog with such useful information about planning your next adventure.
I am so grateful I experienced Moon Camp. It is in the middle of a patch of desert right before you enter Joshua Tree National Park. It only runs on solar, it has rooms made entirely from containers, and the inside of the main room has a beautifully decorated and desert aesthetic living space. On the outside there were also hammocks for us to relax in as we watched the sunset over the desert and mountains. It was overwhelmingly cool. It was the perfect addition to the trip. Here is the Airbnb listing if you are interested:
On our first day entering the park, we did a hike together. It was full of giant tan rocks, cacti, desert flowers, plants, and that desert mystery. After hiking, it was evening and the sun started golden hour. We all felt so free driving around the park. We were enjoying the golden desert with zillions of Joshua Trees, sticking our heads out the windows, blaring music, and doing things like that. We drove to a spot about 30 minutes into the park to watch the sunset over gigantic mountains. There was a big valley under us as we looked out into the depths of the mountains. It truly felt unreal seeing everyone out there hanging out by the gigantic mountains and huge valley below.
At night, we were back to Moon Camp for some epic star views. It was beautiful out and the sky was very clear. I got out my camera to capture the Joshua Trees with a huge night sky full of stars. That’s my favorite, being able to see all the stars. I have always been obsessed with clear night skies. I would take photos of the moon all the time when I first got a camera. Now with my new camera abilities, I love capturing as many stars in the sky as possible. It brings awe to my brain. I could stare at it all night next to a fire. Star-gazing is my favorite pastime.
The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise at Cholla Cactus Garden. It was complete black darkness when we woke up, so as we inched closer to our destination more light crept in. By the time we got to the cactus garden it was a cool light blue outside. The cactus were all visible now, and there were hundreds. More light came in and the Earth became a soft hazy white in the sky. We were waiting to see the sun peak over the first mountain. Once it finally came, the mountains and cactus were covered in a burning orange color. It was as if they were set ablaze. I was awestruck by the beauty. I am also in love with cactus for the record so I was on cloud 9. Such a once in a lifetime moment to experience.
After our early morning, we stopped and got the best breakfast and coffee. We got our coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee Company and our breakfast from JT Country Kitchen right next to the coffee shop. There is nothing I love more than exploring a new place with the right food and coffee. It always sets the tone for a great mood. This led us into our next stop on the itinerary, another hike!
Our second hike was the longest one. We went up a mountain and got to see a vast view of the Joshua Tree landscape. These are the moments that make me come alive. When I look around and I feel alone in the middle of the desert. I could sit there for hours or hike to another spot or just listen to music. There are no rules, it’s up to me what step I take next. There is also such a raw form of peace being out miles in nature. Me, Kristen, Lauren and William all had our share of photos taken and all were excited about the moment we were in together.
We ended our day activities in Moon Camp. We were all getting ready so we could do a photoshoot at golden hour in the park. Moon Camp, I cannot stress this enough, added to our whole experience. It was the perfect place to go home to at the end of the day and just added to the feeling that we were in the desert. After we were all set to go, we headed back to the park for some creative golden hour photos. I really let my creative edge go wild in the photos and wanted to capture as many ideas as the time permitted. This session with Lauren, William and Kristen ended up being my favorite night of the trip. I went off to the side and took some dope photos of William in his vintage apparel. William has a vintage apparel store and sells amazing picks if you are in love with vintage like us: https://www.depop.com/thrifthavenn/
I had an idea to get photos of me, Lauren and Kristen running up the road with the desert on both sides. Yes, sounds like an easy idea, except you have to dodge cars the whole time! We created a system where William would stay in the car for us, and when there was a car in sight he would start beeping the horn. It ended up being hilarious. There were so many photo and video bloopers from that road photoshoot. I felt like we were all just having fun and not having a care in the world, except William who had horn duty ahahahahha.
We finished the night just relaxing at our Moon Camp together. We all sat on the hammocks and watched that sunset over the desert mountains again. Our creative energy was not done. I grabbed Lauren and we caught some bright gold light at the edge of the horizon for some last drop of the sun photos. The sun made a perfect semicircle above the mountain. Lauren was wearing a green emerald mermaid dress to add to the ambiance. Well, mixing all those factors together, plus the fact that Lauren is gorgeous, we made for some magical photos. PS. This is secret information: Lauren and I are obsessed with Lana Del Rey and her energy so we wanted to recreate some Lana inspired photo ops. We bought cigarettes for the sole purpose of lighting them in the photos to emulate a Lana Cali vibe. Only the real ones who read up to here will read our juicy side story.
The next morning, we headed to Laguna Beach. I had no idea what to expect. I never went to Cali before this, and I never really watched the show Laguna Beach either. I guess I thought it was just a beach. Wow I was so wrong. This was not just a beach. As we entered the town, there were houses on the tops of the Cali hills. There was an incline when you drove up the roads. There was a lot of hills in the area. It looked so cool. Then, when you went by the water and looked up, you could see all the rolling hills. There were houses and apartments all up the hills to the tops, overlooking the water. There were giant palm trees all over. This was by far the coolest beach town I ever laid eyes on.
Next on my agenda was I had a couple’s photoshoot on Laguna beach with Thao and Alex. They were such a dream together. They worked so beautifully on the beach and I was in love with the environment. I was so grateful to capture them in that moment in the middle of my Cali adventure. They were such a pleasure to work with, and a truly gorgeous, happy couple.
After the photoshoot, me, Lauren, William and Kristen headed back to our Airbnb. This was my last night with them. We all ate dinner together, gelato together, and then watched a movie back at the Airbnb. For some reason Laguna Beach has the best gelato on Earth? Didn’t know that either? The placed was called “Gelato Paradiso.” It was a chill night and I wanted to be in the moment since I was leaving the next morning.
Lauren and I were talking and we were so happy we did the trip together. We always have our creative ideas get better when we are together. We love creating photos together and using music and our favorite artists to inspire us. Lauren is a DJ, producer, singer, songwriter and just dropped her first song. It is absolutely amazing and such a vibe for the summer. She is a creative genius and the best person to have as a best friend.
That’s it for my Joshua Tree and Laguna Beach experience for now. Here’s a photo dump of other special moments from the trip. If you have any specific questions or places I went to, please DM me on Instagram @allyfrancesphoto. I would love to share anything else you want to know about the trip!
I want to give a very special thanks to Kristen and Lauren for planning and booking the trip. They made this trip happen for me and I was so grateful to join them on their adventure. They are such amazing people and best friends. I love you guys so much.