“Death Valley National Park straddles eastern California and Nevada. It’s known for Titus Canyon, with a ghost town and colorful rocks, and Badwater Basin’s salt flats, North America’s lowest point. Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, Inyo County, California, noted as the lowest point in North America and the United States, with a depth of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level.”
“Above, Telescope Peak Trail weaves past pine trees. North of the spiky salt mounds known as the Devil’s Golf Course, rattlesnakes live in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Many first time visitors to Death Valley are surprised it is not covered with a sea of sand. Less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes, yet the shadowed ripples and stark, graceful curves define “desert” in our imaginations. For dunes to exist there must be a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect. The eroded canyons and washes provide plenty of sand, the wind seems to always blow (especially in the springtime), but there are only a few areas in the park where the sand is “trapped” by geographic features such as mountains.”
I was in the Eastern Sierra region for three days photographing mostly the night skies and had no thoughts about going to Death Valley on this trip. After all, who goes to a place such as this in summer. On impulse, I decided to drive up since it was only going to be a 1 1/2 hour detour on the way back home. I looked at the weather and it did not seem that menacing. I observed how the elevation change, even of a 1,000 feet, made huge changes in temperature. I went from a 72 degree climate to 101 with everything in between.
Below is the view of the mountains just west of Death Valley. Seen is highway 190-several miles of a straight road traversing the Panamint Valley and then winding through the mountains upwards till it starts its descent into Death Valley.
As I went up the mountain and down very steep and windy roads, strange and morbid thoughts crept into my head. If I were to get distracted and by chance lose control of my vehicle, I would land in a ravine or a canyon, hundreds of feet below. With no internet connection/signal, I will not be traced, that is, if any one even knows that I am heading to Death Valley. Death Valley might become my “Valley of Death!” In that heat, my body would disintegrate fast, even before the vultures could pick on it. Oh yeah, earlier I had seen a hungry coyote on the road and almost swerved to avoid hitting it! I’d make a good meal for a hungry coyote, hah! Mistake 1-should have told a family member or a friend where I was headed.
I tried to picture the dunes in my mind and the excitement of shooting them erased all doubts and fears and I was on my merry way down again to an elevation of below sea level. Being a Wednesday, there were hardly any cars on the road, so unusual for California! I enjoyed the solitude and the varying scenery of the rugged mountains and the bluest of skies. I noted that even at high and low elevations there was vegetation, not so barren as I had imagined it to be. However, I did not hear any birds, not even vultures…just that one lonely coyote!
Of course to my relief prior to reaching Mesquite Flat San Dunes, there were several businesses, even hotels and stores. And there were other visitors. I parked at the Mesquite Flat parking lot and camera in hand, got out of the car. The temperature outside showed 101…I could certainly handle it, after all, I grew up in India in a region where such temperatures were common place during summers.
Well, I was wrong. Perhaps it is my age-71, can’t handle extreme weathers. The sun burnt my skin…but worse were the winds. Not sure how fast the wind was blowing, felt like it was 20-25 mph. I walked a few hundred feet to get a good composition. But the wind and the hot sun were very distracting. I managed to get some decent shots with my hair blowing all over my face and the sand kicking up a storm blinding me. I had had enough…back to the car. It wasn’t an easy walk back in the sand and over the dunes with the heat and the sand kicking up a storm. I felt like I was going to pass out!
Mistake 2-I had no water! Should have, could have bought some at the store a mile back. Oh well…but I was not going to give up that easily.
A couple of my photographer friends had advised me to go about a mile east of the parking lot to avoid footprints left behind by other visitors. Well, there were hardly any people (visitors)out there in that temperature to leave footprints. Additionally, the blowing wind took care of covering them, if there were any. The sand storm got worse and obliterated my view, there was just a wall of sand covering the dunes. Nothing to shoot here, I said aloud with a sigh.
I figured that I had had enough of adventure for the afternoon and decided to get back on the highway towards the west and south. The road took me through the Panamint Valley over the mountains through some heavy sand storm, and through Trona back to 395 south and I was on my way home.
In hindsight, I did have an interesting time. I had always wondered what Death Valley was all about, and now I know. The area of the dunes was not very big, not at all like I had imagined or expected-a sea of sand, just like a first-time visitor. I was expecting it to perhaps be bigger in scope/area than the sand dunes of Imperial County-the Glamis Dunes, close to the Mexican border, south of San Diego. I was definitely disappointed by the size of the area. But this was Death Valley….a geological wonder for sure! Perhaps one day during early spring or late fall, I will venture back to Death Valley and capture a pretty sunset or a sunrise, or even some stars! A photographer does not give up that easily!
Below are some of the landscapes viewed and captured through my lens and I hope I am able to bring Death Valley to you! I was going to label them, but decided that the images are pretty obvious. Thanks for reading-I am certainly not a writer…just in my own words.