I have always been attracted to dramatic otherworldly landscapes. Traveling to Yellowstone and many parts of Utah really opened my eyes to what I think of as alien landscapes. I recently made my second visit to Death Valley. I think Death Valley is an acquired taste for some people as you are dropped into an environment that is relentlessly hot, void of water, sparse signs of life and looks hellish and barren.
Many movies have been filmed here (including dozens of scenes from Star Wars) because it can look like either Mars or a remote western movie backdrop.
My recent trip, 2nd week in April, the hot weather was just beginning, but a bearable 96 degrees in the daytime. The winds were wicked and while exploring Badwater Basin I battled through 60mph winds on a long morning hike earning my Death Valley Badass Stripes that day.
My quest on this trip was mostly to immerse myself in the desert and flowing dunes. There is a phrase that “The farther you go into the desert, the more dreamlike it becomes”. My photography aspires for that feel and look. I ventured into the silky Mesquite dunes to get far enough so that the sand becomes untouched by footprints. The dunes have no marked trails because of the continually shifting sand. One thing you learn in the desert is that an hour is more like 3 hours when it comes to sun intensity and water needs. On my first dune exploration, I accidentally dropped my only water bottle at the beginning of my hike – and I ended up in the desert for 4 hours with no water. I am sure Lawrence of Arabia went weeks with no water many times!
While in DV this time, I became fascinated by the strangeness and extremeness of this area.
Largest: 3.4 million acres – it is the largest national park in the United States. Hottest: Highest recorded temp 134 degrees Fahrenheit, makes it the hottest in the US. Driest: Driest place in the country. In 1929 there was not a single drop of rain fell. Lowest: Badwater Basin lies 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest point in the US. Strangest: The mysterious sliding rocks at Racetrack Playa that leave long trails behind them. Somehow these several hundred pound rocks slide across the playa cutting into the sediment as they move. Science recently found the answer to this mystery.
As a photographer, Death Valley is one of the most fascinating places in terms of how it plays up it’s texture and colors during different times of the day. Often the soft pre-dawn morning light accentuates the personality of these formations. Once the sun rises the harsh light and contrasts creep in and creates less then ideal shooting conditions for the main part of the day.
I will continue to be enchanted by this place and hope you find yourself there some day exploring new perspectives and sonic harmonies.
As a photographer I am always making a short list of destinations that I’d love to shoot. Earlier this year I pulled the trigger and decided to go to Morocco which I have always viewed as visually spectacular and culturally exotic. For three weeks I traveled around the country from sea to mountains to deserts and everything in between. I had local guides and fixers along the way to help me navigate the many challenges that you are confronted with in a north african and arab country. My goal was to capture the spirit of Morocco with a focus on people, culture and architecture
Morocco is a dazzling kaleidoscope of sensations and contrasts and at the center ancient traditions. From vibrant and bustling medinas to the sparse but breathtaking Sahara, the country packs a remarkable amount of variety. Getting lost is what happens in morocco, and one must learn to embrace the joy in that. Some of my trip highlights were the markets of Marakesh, desert camping in the Sahara and the stunning “Blue City” of Chefchaouen.
No this isn’t a photoshop trick, there really are goats in trees in Morocco! Goats are drawn to the argan fruit and have no qualms about scampering to the top of these 30-foot-tall trees
One of the challenges I found in morocco was that people DON’T like their pictures taken. I always come from a place of respect and compassion but had to learn to be skillful at getting people more relaxed or even shooting quickly at times.
Ultimately the success of a trip for me needs to work on two levels, rewarding and enriching experiences and also capturing some of this in my photography work. I believe I was able to accomplish this. Living in marin I am endlessly inspired by the beauty we have and it fuels me creatively. Ultimately, I believe beauty can be found anywhere from right outside your door to half way across the world. I welcome you to check out my photography and hope to inspire you to take moment to enjoy the magic that is all around us.
Last summer I went to Byron Hot Springs which is an abandoned resort hotel complex near the town of Byron.
Have you every been deeply haunted by a place?
Last summer I went to Byron Hot Springs which is an abandoned resort hotel complex near the town of Byron. It’s one of the more creepy places I’ve ever visited. This hotel is now in ruins and is the home to only cows which share this sleepy and beautiful rolling farm land.
Getting there is a bit tricky and I needed to google around a bit to get a solid plan together. After eating at the Byron Diner that was out of the movie Twin Peaks – I finally found parking off site and walked to the entrance of Hot Springs road. First thing I saw was an obscure spray painted sign reading “Danger No Trespassing”. About a half mile down the road I saw another sign which was a tree stump painted with the words “Turn Back.”
After walking a mile or so I approached the Hotel which is a rather large complex and is surrounded by Palm Trees. The place is eerily quit, only the breeze and the smell of cows. After walking around the hotel it’s apparent that many kids party here in the night time and light fires and there is graffiti everywhere. After carefully stepping inside the crumbling building – there are several floors, many rooms, bathrooms, closets and staircases, all with their own graffiti. The elevator shaft is missing an elevator, and the lobby, lined with a grand sweeping staircase on each side. You can’t help but think of the Shining movie and the stories the building must have.
A Brief History
Used by the Bolbones Indians for centuries, the therapeutic hot springs were discovered in the 18th century by white fur trappers.
The third major structure to be built at this location, this ornate Beaux Arts style four-story brick hotel opened in 1914.
In its Jazz Age heyday, its golf course was popular with San Francisco socialites and Hollywood stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Clark Gable.
The SF Seals even used this luxurious hotspot for spring training.
The resort was sent spiraling into decline by the Great Depression, finally closing in 1938.
During WWII it was commandeered by the military, renamed “Camp Tracy” and used for German and Japanese POW interrogations.
In 1946 the military sold the hotel to the Greek Orthodox Church who converted it to a monastery named “Mission St. Paul”.
Since the late ‘50s, the resort has been sold and resold to a long list of developers who all had big plans to rejuvenate it. All failures. Its current owners still want to redevelop the spot as a major resort destination.
There’s a lot of talk about the hotel being haunted. Tales of an angry groundskeeper that should be feared when you get there. Here’s a paranormal site with interesting commentary the hotel.
What I’ve recently found out. Don’t go there! The current owners are patrolling the property in trucks and are armed with rifles and are chasing people off the grounds.
If you are interested in other urban exploration adventures like this – check out the site atlasobscura.com and you’ll be surprised what you find.