Death Valley never ceases to amaze me, and our last trip was no exception. The park saw unprecedented rainfall last fall, leaving many of the roads and sites destroyed by water and mud from the flash flooding. The park service did an amazing job of clearing and repairing the roads in a relatively short time, leaving only Scotty’s Castle and a few other minor arteries closed. We were a tad nervous that our workshop would be affected, but the reality is we can’t control Mother Nature and knew it would create new photographic opportunities. We decided to make the most of it, and we were well rewarded.
Badwater basin is normally all crystal white with dried salt, but this year it was filled with water and the reflections were some of the best that I can ever remember. I guess we weren’t alone in our thinking as another photographer rode his bike out to the basin to capture an amazing sunset.
Personally I could have spent the entire week at Badwater just photographing the reflections of the mountains on the salt flat. As the sun went down it cast the most beautiful light on this desert lake, creating an otherworldly scene.
It wasn’t just the presence of the water and light that made Death Valley so different this time around for us, it was also the fun and interesting people we met along the way. Meet Sierra, a very vibrant, sweet, and sincere guy from California. He and his crew of teachers were on the flats practicing some yoga poses and enjoying the photography. I heard him say he needed to get wider, so I walked over and loaned him my Zeiss 15mm so he could try it out. Meeting new people and sharing a beautiful location with good souls and swapping stories (and lenses!) are the moments that define a memorable trip. (Sierra, if you’re reading this, how did those photos turn out? We’d love to see them!)
Sierra with his friends enjoying a beautiful sunset at Badwater.
The rains didn’t stop international travelers either. We arrived at Devil’s Golf Course, which admittedly isn’t my favorite location to photograph in Death Valley because of it’s harsh conditions and drab colors. But, like I said, the desert never ceases to amaze me. This fellow photographer was visiting with friends from Vancouver to photograph Death Valley as well, but if I hadn’t known better I would have thought she was a model shooting a camera ad. She was a good sport and even provided the group with some fun photographic opportunities beyond that of Devil’s Golf Course landscape.
The sunrise at the dunes is hard to beat as far as epic photo ops go, and while the hike takes a little bit of time, the reward is worth it. This year I decided to step back from my digital camera and spend more time shooting with my Pentax 6×7 loaded with Kodak Portra 160. The team was all set up and shooting away, so I took a step back and watched the sun slowly peak up over the horizon. How a place so desolate can be so beautiful will always inspire me.
I have yet to see a bad picture from the dunes as the lines and ripples morph and change as the sun moves overhead.
And for me this year the dunes were about shadows, shapes, and texture of the landscape. I wanted to break it down to it’s simplest forms and see if I couldn’t maximize the impact of the small things.
People always ask me why I love Death Valley so much. There’s simply no other place like it on earth…
And, I’m a sucker for long shadow shots!