A big thanks to all who participated! I enjoyed the variety of approaches taken and the good mix of color and monochrome submissions.
A note for the future to @rpatodia or anyone else who has a hard time opening an E-M5.3 raw file: if you let me know early enough, I will try to make an alternative extended dynamic range file available. I thought maybe the mark-3 is old enough now that it was less of a problem, but I can do something about it if you give me a little time.
My only judgement crtitereon was how much I liked the image. I tend to like balanced renderings, with modest enhancements (color, contrast, crop, exposure) that make the image more interesting or easier to view and appreciate. But I have seen more highly (or artfully) processed images that work well, too. I have a harder time with images that are way too dark, sharp, contrasty, or saturated unless it is for an obvious or unifying purpose which engages me.
My (long) short list of finalists (in order of entry time)
Special mention to @Robert Davidson , @Rob Rider and @Growltiger , as I thought your color images made the closest Joshua Tree easier to separate from the jumbled outcropping in the background. Also a special mention to @betamax , as I thought your B&W with "soft" finishing (low local contrast on fine detail) was a pleasant and interesting contrast to the other B&W entries.
The final results:
Winner: B&W wins again! @frankmulder #1 (I liked the sky better in #1 and the foreground low chaparral a little better in #2)
Oh whoops, I won! Here I was thinking that B&W edits wouldn't stand a chance. OK, to be honest I did see @WhidbeyLVR's declaration of his newfound love for B&W conversions in the #693 thread, so I could have known...