Death Valley in Winter

* Disclaimer - This my first attempt at blogging (save of course, Xanga circa 2003-5. Let's pretend that didn't exist) so please bear with me. I foresee these type of blogs for specific extended trips being a mix of "gallery" quality images, those that kinda miss the mark, and cell phone pictures that add to the story*

"Welcome to Death Valley! As I like to say this time of year, 'it's a whole lot of valley and a lot less death!'" This was somewhat my official welcoming to my first trip to Death Valley as the employee behind the counter of the visitor center joked to the woman in front of me. He was was pretty accurate as Death Valley in February was a rather pleasant upper 70s and sunny as my quick Fri-Sun trip would prove.

My friend Jason and I grabbed that bright and early flight out of Seattle at 6am and landed in Las Vegas for my very first time (somewhat of a badge of honor I wear that I'd never before, and still truly haven't been to Vegas) - we promptly rented a car and got out of town. A few stops along the way for camping supplies and we arrived in Death Valley by lunch, scouted our first sunrise location, and then checked into camp.

Trees in Death Valley?!

We lounged in the hammocks for a little while (it'd been a cold few months in Seattle - swaying in the filtered sunlight and a soft breeze was pretty spectacular) before heading off to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunset pictures. This proved to be a more difficult task than anticipated. For starters, walking up exceptionally tall dunes with loose sand isn't particularly easy. Especially when that relentless sun is beating down on you. More importantly, we found ourselves having to trek much farther than maybe anticipated due to an excessive amount of footprints all over the dunes and an inability to find a composition that wasn't just ruined. We somewhat ended up running out of light after 2hrs of searching and had to make due with where we were at. I feel like we did alright all things considered.

The next morning called for a bright and early sunrise at Zabriskie Point with the throngs of other photographers and their tripods in the predawn hour. Sometimes places are busy for a reason - because they offer amazing opportunities. But that allowed me to also scout a less crowded location for a future trip.

After the sun had just come up, we decided to run over to Artists Palette since it still wouldn't be in full sun. I'd say this was the right call. "These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple)" - thanks, Wikipedia! These colors I imagine are wild at any time of day but with the right light, they're pretty unreal.

After Artists Palette started a long midday trek around the park on a scouting mission for sunset and next morning sunrise locations. Since Friday night was such a bust on the dunes, we tried a different location of the dunes much farther from the hub (parking) and tracked our decided location and trek back to the car on the side of the road with GPS hiking apps so we could find our way back in the dark the next morning.

Turns out the GPS tracking was helpful for more than just photo location. After leaving the dunes, we headed across the park towards Badwater Basin for sunset pics, stopping in Furnace Creek for gas. As I went to pay for gas, I discovered my wallet was suddenly missing! We turned the car upside down but to no avail. The zippered pocket I keep it in on my backpack (you, know, so it doesn't fall out of my shorts pocket..) was open. Fearing the worst, that my wallet was lost amongst the vast sand dunes, we drove the 30mins the opposite direction of sunset pics at 3pm back. I was wracking my brain the whole way on wondering why that pocket was open. As we neared, we remembered I'd stopped and given the keys to Jason so he could continue on to the car. I recalled setting my backpack on the hood when I got back and flipping the lid open to put my camera away where it must have fallen out - my fears began to ease a bit. Miraculously, when we arrived, there was my wallet sitting in the sand alongside the 60mph road unscathed (as seen by my previous tire tracks, I'd almost run it over)! There was some additional good that came out of this trip back as it allowed for additional photoing of the mud cracks adjacent to the car as the light had changed

So, back towards Badwater Basin it was again! Sunset shaped up to be pretty great, though I couldn't quite find the right salt line composition that really hit what I had in mind. I'm satisfied with what I got but eager to go back!

I often travel with the crystal ball but it ends up in the bottom of my bag and forgotten - much the case on this trip as this was the only picture I ended up taking with it despite having multiple ideas floating around in my mind. Seeing it once home on the big screen also made me sad that I didn't take more close detail shots of the salt!

Our last sunrise in the park came and went quickly - Jason had an 11am flight to catch in Vegas 2.5hrs away. True sunrise was right around 7am so we gave ourselves only until about 7:15 on the dunes before running back to the car and speeding for the airport! Got a few decent shots along the way!

Lessons learned:

  1. As much as I generally have a disdain for the desert, I love it in small doses and am quite eager to visit Death Valley again with the knowledge I learned about how/where I want to shoot next!
  2. How it's taken me this long to learn, I'll never know but I generally sleep like crap camping - Tylenol PM is my new best friend and allowed me sleep like an absolute baby! New camping mainstay for sure.