In March 2003 I went to Death Valley on another workshop with Steve Kossack. After my Sedona trip with Steve I couldn't wait to get back in the field with him. The other photographers in the group were Rich Wagner and Joe Graham. The plan was to meet at Thrifty Car Rental at the Las Vegas Airport. I left home the afternoon of March 19th. I drove to Valley of Fire State Park which is about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. I camped there in the back of my truck and planned to shoot sunrise the next day. I had never been there before, but had read the Photograph America issue on it. I ended up wandering around in the pre-dawn trying to figure what would be a good spot. I ended up shooting a lot of film, but didn't really get much I liked. It would have helped if I could have arrived before dark and explored a bit. When the light was gone (actually quite a bit after the light was gone) I headed in to Las Vegas. I met Steve and we drove to the car rental area. After going through the usual forms, it turned out they didn't have the vehicle we needed and that Steve had reserved. Instead of hanging around waiting for one to show up I volunteered my Yukon. We loaded up and headed out. The drive to Death Valley from Las Vegas takes you past many restricted government installations. Another photographer met us in Stovepipe Wells late that night. It turns out he had stopped to photograph some of the distant mountains with his tripod and long lens. In a few minutes he was surrounded by military police and had to explain what he was doing. They ended up looking at all his images (fortunately he was shooting digital) and then let him go. If you remember, this is the day following our first attack on Baghdad. On to the photography. We stayed in a motel in Stovepipe Wells. We shot the dunes there at sunrise and sunset. We also went to Aguereberry Point, Rhyolite ghost town, Titus Canyon, the Racetrack, Zabriskie Point, and Dante's View. We spent time in between downloading cards, charging batteries, checking out some of the tourist locations and just having a good time. It was a great trip. March was a perfect time to go. One morning it was 31° on one of the points at sunrise and 92° at Badwater (282 feet below sea level) in the afternoon.
Canon D60, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L, ISO 100
The Shifting Sands - Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes
On the way to meet the group in Las Vegas I stopped at Valley of Fire State Park. This was Nevada's first State Park (or so the brochure says). I arrived after dark and went to sleep after listening to reports of our first attack on Baghdad on the radio. This was about the last news we had on the trip until the drive home. It was nice to just concentrate on photography and the outdoors even though we knew this major endeavor was going on. Valley of Fire deserved more time than I had. I'd like to go back some time now that I know my way around better.
While at Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells was our base of operations. It gets its name from the old well out near the dunes that was marked with a length of stovepipe. It's close to the Stovepipe Wells sand dunes and away from the congestion of Furnace Creek (the center of most tourist activity). It's a great place to sleep, but does have some drawbacks. For example: the rooms have comfortable beds, but no phone, TV, or drinking water (I found 2 payphones on the property and there was drinking water just outside our room); there is only one dining room with a modest menu (they make wonderful blueberry pancakes and a great stir-fry); the only store ran out of Diet Coke and caramel corn by the end of the weekend. Joking aside, I would chose to stay here again (all that is important is a comfortable bed and electrical outlets). Our itinerary included a sunset and sunrise shoot on the nearby dunes. We elected to shoot sunrise on the dunes the day we left as well, but by then there had been a lot more foot traffic on the dunes. I've included a number of shots on the dunes.
Dante's View is at 55oo feet. In about 45 minutes we went from 90+° at Badwater (the lowest point in the valley) to gusting winds making me put on my jacket and hat. The view is spectacular, but as is often the case it's hard to translate that into a good photograph. It's one of those places you need to go to just to be there, regardless of the results of your photography.
Zabriskie Point is a popular overlook of the valley. It is just a couple of miles from all the tourist gaggle at Furnace Creek. There is wonderful texture and patterns here. We were fortunate (good planning) to be the first ones there. By the time we left there were probably 75 other people here and a couple more busloads just pulling up. It's a good thing not everyone likes to photograph at the same time.
The Racetrack is one of the more intriguing areas in Death Valley. You get there by a long bumpy dirt/gravel road. It does pass through some Joshua Tree stands. (It seems too strange to call these groves out in the middle of the desert.) The Racetrack is large dry lake bed (playa). The surface is cracked, dry mud. The main attractions are the rocks that move and leave tracks. As we set off on our long drive the sky was totally overcast and looked more and more like we would have no sunset at all. But, being the true optomists that landscape photographers have to be, we kept going. We not only found some rock trails, but some color in the sky as well. It was certainly worth the drive.
As seems to often be the case here are a couple of images that don't fit into one of the larger categories.