A couple days in Death Valley

A couple days in Death Valley

It is the largest national park in the Lower 48 of the United States, as well as the lowest, hottest and driest point in the United States.  Originally envisioned as a mining mecca, various mining operations quickly learned that it was not very profitable.  Instead, entrepreneurs focused their efforts on the economic opportunity of tourism.  Death Valley National Monument was established in 1933.  It was expanded and established as a national park in 1994.

I have been to the desert Southwest in various locations, but have never been able to make it out to Death Valley National Park.  Given its proximity to Las Vegas (only a two-hour drive), it seemed like a perfect place to start our Southwest road trip – after spending a couple of days exploring photo galleries on the Vegas Strip and enjoying the spa services at our hotel.  I was aware of a couple of choice photo locations – Zabrieske Point, the Mesquite Sand Dunes and the Racetrack Playa.  I certainly wanted to examine those and see how I might interpret them, but also wanted to do some broader exploring in the park.

I found the open flats of the park the most interesting area to explore that has been under-explored.  Take, for example, the Devil’s Golf Course.  Perhaps, the better name for it would have been Golf Course from Hell, as in, this is what a golf course would look like in Hell.  It is a massive field of large clusters of salt crystals, creating a bumpy field of sharp salty boulders.  Given how “good” light doesn’t hit the main part of the valley floor at this time of year, I chose to photograph the field after sunset, with the colors of dusk to add an interesting element to the scene.  I also, after coming back one morning from the sand dunes, saw open water out on the salt flats, providing a perfect reflection of the mountains of the Panamint Range as morning light struck them.  A scattered field of clouds added additional elements of interest.  I also found the Devil’s Corn Field (just a couple of miles away from the parking for the Mesquite Sand Dunes) a really strong, potential subject, but the light and timing just didn’t work out.  Next time.

Michelle and I also visited the Ryollite ghost town, just outside of the park, which provided an interesting change to the usual scenery.  On the way back into the park, we came down through the area where Scotty’s Castle is located.  While the castle itself was not particularly interesting, its location was – a water-rich drainage replete with several groves of California palm trees and a variety of plants and trees.  A true oasis, it will be worthy to explore again at another time of the year – spring.

The drive out to the Racetrack Playa is certainly worth it, even if it is an hour and a half of driving on rocky, narrow road.  The Racetrack is a mysterious location where rocks are moved across a dried lake bed when the conditions are right, leaving behind dragged trail marks.  Fun to explore and photograph, there is one downfall to the location – there are no toilet facilities of any kind.  As you photograph the rocks and their background scenery, you know that you will have to clone out people in the background when you process in Photoshop.  In one case, I had the image blown up to 100% and was cloning out a couple of people when I noticed that one of them was taking a leak.  Chuckling to myself, I removed his activity and presence from the image.

When we left the park, we headed west out on Highway 190.  I found the western, higher part of the park fascinating; almost like a desert Scottish Highlands.  But, since we were on a mission to visit Galen Rowel’s gallery in Bishop on our way up to Mono Lake, there was no time to stop.  I enjoyed what I was able to capture, and took notes for future return trips to the park.



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