First Day in Death Valley

Friday, March 36618-landsharkWe traveled from Fresno to Bakersfield where we overnighted in order to stock up for the next 10 days or so. Thursday morning we made our way over the Grapevine and into high desert country. It was an easy drive into Death Valley, with only one stop to visit the Land Sharks of Trona, a rock pile painted to resemble sharks or perhaps moray eels. By late afternoon, we were well ensconced in the Stovepipe Wells campground – basically a gravel parking lot with spectacular views. A happy hour was called for as we watched the shadows grow long across the valley.6679-dvduneThe valley has gotten more rain than usual this year, but it still far less than last year and not really at the right times for a banner wildflower bloom. There is nothing much blooming in this portion of the park and only sparse blooms at this point in the southern sections, but there is still so much more to do here. Friday morning we were up pre-dawn to take advantage of the calm sunny conditions to walk and photograph the dunes. Somewhat cloudy skies are predicted for Saturday, and high winds on Sunday, so getting out today was important. Certainly don’t want to be on the dunes in the wind.6638-dvduneThe disadvantage to calm weather is that hundreds of footprint paths don’t get blown away. Sometimes this can work in my favor, but usually they just serve to distract from the composition. It means hiking further into the dunes to find less traveled areas.6652-dvdune 6643-dvduneMary and I split up to roam in our own directions. Eventually I found some really nice areas to explore. As the sun rose, new areas became more interesting as shadow and light began playing with the  contours of sand forms.
6665-dvdune 6666-dvdune 6674-dvduneI’ve been on these dunes so often over the past 40 years, I tend to worry a little that I won’t find the place inspiring anymore. So not true. Once the first image is made, all worries are put to rest. It becomes an exercise in discipline to slow down, make careful compositions and really experience the place again. The images come easily, with the only constraint being the light becoming too harsh to continue.6693-dvduneAs I was framing my final image of the morning (above), I slowly became aware of the jet noise that was at first faint, but now getting louder. It is not uncommon to hear jets over the valley. Mostly it is military on joyrides over the valley in fighters, or high altitude airliners crossing over the state. I pretty much ignored it until the increasing loudness became annoying. Looking around, I couldn’t at first locate it until I looked directly overhead. It was a stealth bomber slowly cruising along accompanied by a jumbo jet sized aircraft! It was low enough for me see the markings on it’s underside. Swinging my camera up, I realized I had on my super wide-angle lens. By the time I’d gotten lenses switched, the jets were flying into the sun and far away. All I got was a bomber dot. But it was quite an experience to see it so close.
That seemed like a good ending point for the morning. I eventually found Mary in the dunes again and we returned to camp.

Later in the afternoon, we hiked a couple of miles into Mosaic Canyon – another nearby location. The smooth polished walls of marble and the slotty nature of several sections, are the real attraction here. One can only imagine the forces that created all of this. Photographically, perhaps not the most interesting of hikes, but we alway enjoy seeing and hiking this canyon.6722-mosaic6725-mosaicComing out of the canyon after the hike, we were treated with a last bit of light. The sun had found a crack between clouds and treated us to a little show.6784-mosaicStill later, back in camp, we enjoyed the last bit of sun as it set behind the Panamints. Tomorrow we hike the new-to-us Darwin Falls trail. Waterfalls in Death Valley? Stay tuned.6793-mosaic

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