Death Valley, Spring 2002

Death Valley was a bit different from my experience last year. Last year, we explored the northern valley and drove over 250 miles per day. This year our goal was to see the central valley. My usual plan is to explore during the day, and scout locations. When the sun’s rays grow long in the afternoon, I am quickly off to take photos

The trip started with a short drive over to the ghost town of skidoo for various mine exploring. The town itself is long since gone but, the the hills remain riddle with hundreds of mines, tailings, and tunnels. The only structure that remains is the mill, but the structure is now marked unstable, and explorers are discouraged from entering the site.

Thunderstorm in Death Valley National Park
Thunderstorm in Death Valley National Park

Later on this day, I took a hike out into the Dunes. I found it very  frustrating to see the huge volume of tracks from previous hikers and explorers. The majority of whom, seemed determined to continually stand or walk along the fragile ridges of the wind swept dunes. Compost ion proved to be a nightmare, and I did not want to bring home an image with foot prints in it. I continued on my way, dune after dune after dune. I found my subject on the far end of the dunes. Over one more ridge and the sand turned back into the wasteland that is the central valley floor. The image I saw in my head, was a low angle shot that pushed the depth of field, with a shallow sweeping curve of the dune ridge created by the strong desert winds. I did not get the exact composition that I was looking for, but the results have there own charm. I the failing desert light, I headed back across the dunes with my brother and arrived in camp well after sundown.

The next day in the valley typified the valley for me. In the morning we headed off for Darwin Falls, and I had some success. Later in the day, we encountered a violent wind storm. Sand rose hundreds of feet into the air, as I watched my chances for more work in the dunes vanish under the shifting sands. I might risk my self out in that storm, but I wouldn’t dare sand blast my camera lens in these harsh conditions. I spent the evening light enjoying a cocktail as I watch the sunset. I snapped a few of the sunset, but the light failed to turn, and I only really capture a far off desert sand storm.

We awoke the final day, and as the sun peaked over the horizon, the now familiar winds began again with a vengeance. Our camp was pummeled under the onslaught, as we watched as another campers tent gently flew overhead at an altitude of about 75 feet, and take off across the desert at high speeds. The majority of the day was spent traveling around the main valley hot sports. Even in early April, we could feel the heat of this place.

Sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park
Sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park

As the day waned, my brother and I drove towards the yellow hills of Zabriskie Point. Our friend the wind continued to follow us, and fellow visitors laughed a bit when they say me composing image with my camera, and putting all of the 6’1″ frame on top of the tripod to pin the camera to the earth to prevent distortion caused by the wind. It was under these conditions that I missed my first great shot. We by car in the hills above Zabriskie Point. While driving I took a quick glance in the side mirror and saw the most brilliant golden hue I have ever seen. My brother must have thought me insane as I slammed on the breaks, turned off the road, and grabbed my camera. I took off running. I needed some high ground to compose my shot. The late afternoon sun managed to piece the blackening ski, and found the yellow hills. The resulting color and light can never be described. Unfortunately, I was 5 seconds too late. As I opened the shutter, the intensity of light failed along with my opportunity.

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