After weeding through multiple cancellations and postponements for a month, I finally took off on 4 day trip to Death Valley National Park on Thursday, Nov 11th. Its basically two full days in the park that’s as large as 1.5 times of delaware state; good luck.
I spent most of the time at four places only.
- Two important playas (Playa means flat-floored bottom of an undrained desert basin.) in the park,
- Salt Flats
- Race Track.
- Mesquite Sand dunes
- Zabriskie point
I spent quality of time at each location and the experience at each location was exquisite. Name of this national park turns some people off, but the beauty that this place offer to its visitors is exceptional…Soaring temperatures in summers often cross 120 degrees Fahrenheit reminds the name is apt.
Salt ponds at bad waters: This is lowest point in North America, 286 feet below sea level. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states is 85 miles far from here. Bad waters located 27 miles from furnace creek village.
I spend two sunsets here. Sunsets behind telescope peak (range), but you can turn any side that has good composition and sunset colors…that’s big advantage at this place. Just walk straight into salt ponds about 1 to 3/4 miles from parking lot for good undisturbed formations. Alternately, drive little more distance from parking lot and park on the road side and walk into the flats to avoid crowd.
Here are couple of images from this place. Click on each image to view largers
I stayed back after sunset to try star trails. I started clicking off one hour after sunset. I took 16 images in next two hours. More images makes skies more interesting…but I wanted to see how successful is my attempt first, before committing another hour or two in the night. I was the only one around in the salt ponds, three hours after sunset, no sound other than wind. Even though it was half-moon in the sky, it was reflecting off the light from complete white fields and sky with full of stars…its just pure beauty. Close your eyes for couple of minutes. Open your eyes and look around you. I’m not trying to be more poetic here, but an experience that this moment brings will stay for ever. At least speaking of me, it will.
This image shows how bad my star identifying skills are. My intention was to put polaris in the middle of the frame. Obviously I missed it big time. My exposure was also not correct. On top of all these, there were couple of passing clouds in the two hour period brought some noise at horizon. Anyways, for second attempt…not bad at all.
Race Track: Its a ancient lake bed. Its 32 mile drive on very rough dirt road from Ubehbe crater. A high clearance vehicle is required. 4 wheel drive is preferred, but not necessary. Inspite of engaging part-time 4 wheel drive, I did not drive more than 20 miles to ensure, my tires are OK. Rocks in this playa are moved slowly making their way marked in the clay promptly. It’s believed that this rocks are moving due to wind. I reached here 3 hours before sunset and surveyed the area and picked up my racing horse…na…rock and waited. I tried star trails after sunset. This was my first attempt and missed on exposure, position
completely. But again, experience at this location is great. No one around you for at least 40 miles distance. Whole playa, sky and stars are all yours. Pure wilderness experience.
I camped in a primitive campground two miles away from the playa for the might. This camp ground is not marked any where. It does not have electricity/water/rest-room, not even picnic bench. Just level ground for tents and some stones for camp fire.
Very unexpected, there are two other people already there at the site…non-photographers. After all, I was not alone there.
Sand Dunes: Sand dunes are just a mile away from Stovepipe wells village. They look very small and hardly covered any area from the road. I started hiking one hour before sunrise. It took one hour to reach on top of the tallest sand dune which I thought is not too far. I was completely tired, disappointed. Almost all the dune edges are covered with foot steps. On top of that I could not previsualize the scene… I should be ready with camera setup on tripod by the time first rays hit the dunes. I was simply trying to shoot west side sky between cotton wood mountains and grapevine mountains with some pale sunrise color. I have no more sand dunes on west side of me. I have not interesting fore ground. My expectations were much more from the dunes. Then the first rays hit the sand dunes…I just stopped what I was doing. I forgot about camera for a minute ( I don’t have a composition to work with anyway). The place turned in to amazing playground for light. I stayed there for 5 minutes and got down from that dune. I didn’t have to try hard for composing below images. I fortunately found this dune without foot steps in time. This was really great experience. After thought cleared my doubt on why I failed to previsualize the scene; it because, my expectations are blinding me. The sand dune images I have been seeing with great sunrise/sunset colors making me to look toward east all the time.
If you want to really experience the beauty of sand dunes, get on to the top of this tallest dune and wait.
On the way back to parking lot, I found a clambering man with walking stick. By the time I reached, he fell on his face twice. I helped him out to parking lot and found that he is suffering from balance disorder caused by a brain disease. Seems aggravates when patient is under more physical stress. I asked him on the way, how did he find this place, thinking that it would be his first time and he underestimated the walk. He coolly told me that he comes very regularly here from LA and he can not resist coming here inspite of his health condition and the danger it involves. I just went “Wow” !…
Here are the images from Sand Dunes
Zabriskie Point: Zabrisky point is 6 miles frm furnace creek village. I took this from observation point itself. There is a trail that takes you down into the canyon, but you will not get the same perspective.