Death Valley is one of my favorite National Parks to visit for a number of reasons. Its beauty and remoteness is one reason, but the diversity of things to photograph is what keeps me coming back. Realizing that it had been over a year since my last visit, I planned a 4 day weekend road trip down to the desert. I left early on a Friday morning, and began the long 8 hour drive.

Late afternoon on Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Late afternoon on Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The drive was uneventful and smooth sailing until I was about one hour away from my destination. It was at this point that I realized that I had forgotten my tripod. After all of the planning and packing that went into a 4 day photography trip, I had forgotten the one tool that would allow me to take photos at sunrise, sunset, and after dark. If you have ever experienced that sinking feeling, that is how I felt. I immediately pulled over on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and attempted to make a call home. No signal… I continued to drive, eyeing my phone until two bars appeared, in a seemingly even more remote location, and I eased my way onto the gravel shoulder of the lonely road.

Salt crystals form unique shapes in the mud.

Salt crystals form unique shapes in the mud.

After making a few phone calls, I was able to connect with someone who was able to help me. Fortunately, after about an hour of brainstorming, it was decided that Fedexing my tripod overnight to Las Vegas would be the best possible solution. I continued on my way to Death Valley knowing that I had some extra mileage to put on the next day. I still had enough time to enjoy the sand dunes on both Friday evening, and again for sunrise the next morning.  I then hightailed it to Las Vegas and completed the drive in 3.5 hours round trip. I’ll admit that I did not obey the speed limit, but there were hardly any other cars on the road.

The thing about Death Valley that makes it difficult to photograph is its size geographically. It’s huge! You pretty much have to settle on a spot for sunset or sunrise, and hope that conditions cooperate. On numerous occasions, I have been on the sand dunes, and have watched as the sky blows up 40-50 miles to the south over Badwater and vice versa. You really have to play weatherman, and also have a great deal of luck.

As a result of the size of the park, I chose to focus my photography in some areas that I hadn’t spent as much time during my previous trips. I explored some new polygons forming at Badwater. A first for me since the past few years the surface has been more crusty and muddy than flat and white. I also got a couple of nice hikes into the Sand Dunes, but didn’t end up photographing during the magic hours. The photo above was a handheld shot taken within the dunes during the late afternoon before I headed off to shoot sunset at a different location where the clouds looked better.

When Monday rolled around, I couldn’t believe how fast time had come and gone. I woke up early for one more sunrise photo, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I stepped outside into the frigid darkness, I could see some nice clouds blowing through. I drove to my spot, and then walked in the silent darkness for about 20 minutes, following my GPS to this spot that I had scoped out the previous day. At first, the clouds exploded with color that was so bright, it was difficult to capture it with my camera’s sensor. That photo is below. Then, I turned around to see the clouds behind me catching some nice light, so I scrambled a couple hundred yards to another spot I had remembered liking and took the photo to the right.

It was another successful and relaxing trip to the desert. I can’t wait to go again!


Unique formations created by salt crystals in one of the basins throughout Death Valley.



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