Death Valley National Park

Located in the desert area of Central California, east of the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Death Valley is a truly unique place. While it lacks the stunning physical beauty of Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, or Canyonlands, it has the same ability to capture the imagination of visitors. The appeal of Death Valley is in the vast empty spaces it encompasses. It is in the absolute dead quiet heard nowhere else in our civilization. It is in the sound of a raven flapping its wings as it flies by. It is in the feel of a 30 mph, 115 degree wind sandblasting your face as it reshapes the landscape. Because of this, it definitely takes longer to get a feel for Death Valley than it does for Yosemite. It is not a place to visit by car in 8 hours. I've been there 10 times in the last 4 years for varying lengths of time and I still feel like the place is a vast empty stranger to me. This is an extremely difficult place to photograph and the following do not do a very good job of capturing the essence of this desert.

On my first trip ever to Death Valley I actually got stranded by a rainstorm. It was in January and the area received about an inch of rain in 12 hours or so. This represented the heaviest rainfall in the Park for at least 50 years and all but 1 road out were impassable. I had a difficult time explaining to my wife that I'd be a day late getting home because I was caught in a rainstorm in the hottest driest desert on the continent.

 

This short lived lake was the result of the rain that stranded me the night before. The valley pictured is actually Panamint Valley. This is just west of Death Valley but within the boundaries of the Park. The snow capped mountains in the background are the Panamints, the Western border of Death Valley. I sat at the side of the road here and literally watched and listened to this lake evaporate. In a matter of hours it was almost gone and the sound of the water evaporating was mesmerizing, the sound of the planet itself coming alive to satisfy a terrific thirst.
This is a view of the dry lake covering most of the southern half of the valley floor. This photo was taken about a month after the rainstorm I mentioned earlier so there is an unusually large amount of water present. Normally this lakebed is completely dry; a vast, completely flat expanse of salt. The photo was taken from Dante's View, one of the best places to get a good view of the valley floor. The mountains in the background are the Panamints including Telescope Peak. At 11, 049 feet, Telescope Peak is over 2 miles above the valley floor.
This picture was also taken in February, about a month after the big rainstorm. For a brief period most years there is a wildflower bloom on the valley floor which can be quite spectacular. The amount of flowers is directly related to the amount of rain so that year was a great one.
This 14 square mile sand dune area near Stovepipe Wells is created and kept in motion by the sometimes brutal winds in the valley. It is a terrific place for photography in low light or to look for footprints in the early morning. Hiking here can be grueling, though, as the sand is as fine as that on the best beaches.
These hills near the famous Zabriskie Point are another favorite of mine for photography. The colored layers can be quite striking in the right light conditions. Abandoned mines which can be quite fun to explore litter the area but be careful! They are very dangerous and the park service definitely recommends you stay out of them.
This picture should dispel lots of misconceptions about Death Valley. This was shot in February with a good 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground. The cactus looking thing is called a Joshua Tree. Joshua Trees grow all over Death Valley and the Mojave Desert at about 3,500 to 5,000 foot in elevation. They can form truly bizarre, twisted shapes. This is a rather ordinary looking one but I like the contrast of the green cactus and the white snow in this shot.
This is a dry lakebed called The Racetrack. It is so named because it is home to rocks that move across the playa all by themselves. As far as I know, despite extensive research, no one knows exactly how the rocks move. We weren't able to see any tracks when this picture was shot, though. Everything was covered by the recent snowfall. That's my wife and my dog next to the rock formation, called The Grandstand.
 

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