It had been a few years since I had been to Death Valley National Park and the nearby Eastern Sierra Mountains. I felt like I had some unfinished business there. Of course, I always feel that way. It gives me an excuse to go back.
I teamed up once again with my good friend and professional photographer, Jess Lee, and we met up in Las Vegas and headed to Death Valley. We work well together, and two heads are always better than one with the decisions to be made on what location to shoot in each day.
The first thing that comes to mind for most people when you say “Death Valley” is a hot, barren and colorless desert wasteland. “Why do you want to photograph dirt?” is a common question. From having been there before, I knew there was far more to the park, and I wanted to do a better job of showing this.
The weather forecast for the first two days was for high winds, up to 40 mph. This was great news! The dunes at Mesquite Sand Dunes would get the footprints wiped clean and the blowing sand results in more interesting photographs.
There are two gas stations in Death Valley National Park. The one to the south is closer to the higher-end lodges and is always more expensive due to convenience. The other one is about 20 miles away near the lower-cost lodge where we stayed. I'm going to guess you can figure out which one was where.
The morning after we arrived we headed out into Mesquite Dunes in the pitch dark before sunrise. We were wearing ATV goggles to protect us from the blowing sand, which also made it a little more difficult to see. I knew the general direction of where I wanted to go, but wound up east of our target area and had to climb over some sand dunes to get into the desired location.
We were pretty pooped after hiking out a mile or so in the sand and the same coming back in. Breakfast was good that morning. We spent the rest of the day checking out the conditions at other locations, but our plan had us going back out into the dunes at the end of the day for sunset.
The sky was filled with sand from the high winds and the light from the sun setting on the other side of the sand-filled sky was quite orange and cast some interesting colors on the dunes.
After two trips out into the dunes, it was time to look for other compositions. As we were driving down one of the main roads, my attention was caught by a lone rock that had rolled down from the mountain and come to rest in the valley. I couldn’t help but stop and photograph “The Rock”.
Although I have been to Death Valley several times, I had not taken the time to shoot the colorful formations in an area known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon. We decided to dedicate one of our early morning shoots to this cause. We arrived before sunrise, which was perfect for the reflected light in the canyon. For those that don’t think Death Valley is colorful, they haven’t been to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.
There was one more thing left to accomplish in Death Valley. Like all other photographers, we wanted to photograph the famous mud cracks. When there is rain, which is rare, the mud in certain areas softens, mixes together, dries and cracks.
To keep these very delicate areas from sustaining heavy damage from too many people, their locations are not published. It took some searching, but we finally found a good area on our last evening there. Like others, I will not provide locations to others. It was great to finally find them.
With our Death Valley photographic goals accomplished, we decided to go to Bishop, California to shoot a couple of locations in the Eastern Sierra Mountains. First up was the Owens River with the snow-capped mountains in the background. The winter is the best time to shoot here as the grasses are beautiful shades of red and orange.
The other location was Hot Springs Creek and the view of the canyon with the springs and the snow-capped mountains in the background. A cold morning is needed for the steam from the springs to stand out. We weren’t sure if it was going to be cold enough as it was mid-March. It turned out to be 24 degrees the morning we were there so the steam showed up really well.
We returned to Las Vegas to fly home, but before we did, we made a late afternoon trip up to Valley of Fire State Park. The variety of red rock formations there are quite impressive. The clouds were doing some cool things, which called for a super wide-angle photograph. This is an area, while hard to get to, deserves some more of my time at a later date.
Next up will be a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s the perfect time of the year for shooting there, and I hope for some very nice images to come from it. Stay tuned.