Return to Death Valley

In my last article, Come for the Wildflowers – Stay for the Art!, I described the last part of my trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to see the wildflowers everyone was talking about. Now it was time to head back home, but not before a quick visit to Death Valley National Park to see if any wildflower activity was going on there.

There wasn’t.

Well, I’m sure there were wildflowers scattered here and there, but after the amazing show I had just witnessed at Anza-Borrego, I wasn’t impressed.

But, that didn’t mean there weren’t other photo opportunities, so I found a campsite and proceeded to make myself at home.

Not so fast. The first campsite I checked, Emigrant Campground, was full – not surprising, since it’s free and has only ten sites. So, I headed back down to the Stovepipe Wells Campground, which tends to be more of an RV campground (not my idea of camping, but to each his own), but which does have a few tent sites as well.

There was only one problem. The wind was howling something fierce. I’m not good at estimating wind speed, but this windstorm would have made an Icelander feel right at home. This was one of those “point your car into the wind if you want to keep your doors attached” kind of winds.

Did I mention I was camping in a tent? Well, the first thing I noticed was a young couple attempting to set up their small tent. While they had the advantage of having two people available to do the job, they seemed to be lacking in strategy to the degree that extra personnel didn’t help. I watched them flailing about for quite some time while myself trying to decide how I was going to handle the problem. At least they didn’t lose the tent, but neither did they get it erected. Meanwhile, other potential campers came and went, not quite sure what to do.

Well, I studied my surroundings, having learned from my previous trip to Death Valley which you can read about in Valley of Death if you like. I almost lost my tent that time, and wasn’t planning to let that happen again. I didn’t see any particularly large rocks in the area, but enough medium sized rocks that I knew I could make this work. Without going into too much detail, I first staked my tent on the windward side, then all around, and used a series of rocks to insure that the stakes would stay put. Only then did I insert the poles to erect the tent vertically. Sure it was blowing around a bit, but it wasn’t going anywhere.

By then it was dinner time, and the one advantage of the Stovepipe Wells Campground is that it is directly across the street from the Stovepipe Wells Village Saloon, which meant a burger and beer were in my dinnertime future. I chatted with the bartender about the windy conditions, and a while later he came back from the hotel section of the village and said that a woman was looking for a room because “everybody’s tents had blown away”, including hers. I smiled, knowing that mine was secure, but to put the bartender at ease, I walked out to the road to take a look. My tent was fine. The young couple and their tent were nowhere to be seen.

Overcast skies cast a soft light on the pastel colored terrain near Zabriskie Point, in Death Valley National Park, California.

The next morning I got up well before dawn and drove to an old favorite, Zabriskie Point, to see what kind of dawn lighting we would have. The skies were mostly overcast, so the lighting was very muted. I wasn’t thrilled about the conditions, but my images from that morning have a very soft, pastel look to them that has grown on me. I applied very slight adjustments in postprocessing, not wanting to detract from their softness.

Zabriskie Photographers, Death Valley National Park, California

A group of photographers participating in a workshop gather at Zabriskie Point to wait for the perfect light, at Death Valley National Park, California.

Each time I visit Zabriskie Point I find members of a paid photography workshop there, waiting patiently for just the right conditions. This morning was no different, as this is a magical location with great views of Badwater down below and the Panamint Range on the other side.

After breakfast I broke camp and started to head back home. By that time the clouds had dissipated, so the light on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes was distinct enough to cast some nice shadows. I used the longest lens I had with me to compress the scene and captured the dunes with the mountains behind them.

And with that, my trip to southern Nevada and California was coming to a close.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes glow in the morning sunlight, at Death Valley National Park, California.

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One Response to “Return to Death Valley”

  1. Ron says:

    Always a great read, Ed — really enjoy your storytelling skills.