In Death Valley

Bug Tracks, Death Valley National Park, CA ©David Gaardner

We’ve been in Death Valley for about a week now. We spent the first three days in Stovepipe Wells and used the campground as our base of operation. The first morning we ventured out to the Mesquite sand dunes at dawn. It was clear there has been little wind the past few days. The dunes showed lots of foot traffic with major pathways leading into the dunes. I would have hoped for a wind storm at some earlier point to erase all these unsightly signs of human life, but you just have to make do. But since the weather was so nice, it made for a wonderful morning. Before dawn it was cool, and once the sun came up, it warmed nicely without getting too hot too fast. It was difficult framing compositions without getting footprints in the shots, so I decided to just look past those marks and have a little fun. I think I did manage to get some nice images despite the footprints. The dunes here are so great to photograph. They stretch out for a couple of square miles and it is easy to keep separated from other photographers roaming around. The light changes so quickly from pre-dawn to post. Pre-dawn is best for making more subtle compositions, while after dawn, more dramatic images are revealed. I like to do both and am usually very busy for the three or so hours I spend out there. It is constant motion, moving from one dune to another. I must remember to look behind me as even the smallest change of position can reveal very different viewpoints – and the light keeps changing as well.

Dune Curves. Death Valley National Park, CA ©David Gardner

Dunes. Death Valley National Park, CA ©David Gardner

Later in the day, we drove up to the Charcoal Kilns high up in the Panamint Mountains. The Kilns are beehive shaped and were built to make charcoal from surrounding mesquite trees. It was my first time to this place, but overcast skies created too flat of light and I wasn’t too happy with my resulting images. It was a cool place to visit though.

Charcoal Kilns at Wildrose. Death Valley. ©David Gardner

Thursday, March 25th, we decided on a drive through Titus Canyon. The road was just opened for the season 4 days earlier, so we thought it a perfect time to do it. We stopped in the ghost town of Rhyolite, and the Albert Szukalski Gold Well Open Air Museum just outside the town before going through the canyon. We’ve been here before, but it is always interesting to see new developments and restorations. Also the new additions in the art park can be interesting.

Rhyolite Bank. ©David Gardner

Bottle House. Rhyolite, NV ©David Gardner

Shrouded Rider. Rhyolite, NV ©David Gardner

Hands on a Bench. Rhyolite, NV ©David Gardner

Desert Queen. Rhyolite, NV ©Davd Gardner

The first 10 miles of the one way dirt and gravel road is not real exciting, but it eventually moves into the canyon itself and begins to get spectacular. After climbing a number of switchbacks we arrived at Red Pass – a narrow turnout at the top that provides enough room to park and hang out awhile. The view of multi-colored hills and cliffs is well worth the rough ride and we did hang awhile. As the road descends, it passes an old mining town called Leadville. There are just a couple of shacks and few other artifacts remaining and we moved on pretty quickly. Going further, the road continues to narrow and begins to twist through the canyon. If the sun is in the right position, reflections will bounce off the walls and create glows on the other side. We were a bit late getting to this point so it was less than perfect.

Entrance to Titus Canyon. Death Valley National Park. ©David Gardner

On Friday morning I was back on the dunes. The evening before was very windy. We could feel the motorhome bouncing us around with each gust and I knew this would wipe the dunes clean of most of the footprints that spoiled my first trek out there – as long as the winds died down before morning. Fortunately they did die down – but only until sunrise. I managed to get onto the dunes by about 6:15 AM and conditions were pretty calm. There were only light gusts and the sand had been well smoothed. I got a couple of frames taken before sunrise, but as soon as the sun came up, so did the wind. It took maybe 15 minutes before the sand was blowing everywhere. At one point, my ball cap blew off my head and down a steep dune. I went after it and as I returned back up the dune, I was greeted by a constant sandblasting to the face. I called it quits after that as the wind just kept increasing. I still managed a couple of nice images. We moved onto the Furnace Creek area later that day and got ourselves set up.

On Saturday, we got up for an early hike through Golden Canyon. This has become one of our favorite hikes in the valley. It is also one of the most popular. Going early helps, but we’ve found we almost get the trail to ourselves once we get past the first half mile of this 5 mile hike. It is called Golden Canyon for a reason. When the early morning sun hits the yellowish mud hills, it creates a golden glow that is just amazing. The mineral patterns in the cliffs and hills is very reminiscent of being live in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. I experienced a bit of a back spasm about halfway through the hike, which made for an uncomfortable 2nd half, but it’s not too bad. Some rest and Ibuprofen should get me feeling better in a day or so.

Drifting Sand. Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley. ©David Gardner

Sand Storm. Death Valley National Park, CA. ©David Gardner

Golden Canyon. Death Valley National Park, CA. ©David Gardner

Golden Canyon 2. Death Valley. ©David Gardner
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