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.