TEN SIX Photography | Death Valley - Follow Your Instincts

Death Valley - Follow Your Instincts

April 26, 2018  •  Leave a Comment


Well here goes! I had a goal at the beginning of the year to share more, more of the work I’ve done because I do a lot that isn’t ever shared and more about the things I’ve learned in the photography world and possibly a life lesson or two along the way, because let’s face it, life loves to challenge me!

So here we are in April… The end of April, finally getting around to that goal I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. Now I’m not one for New Years resolutions, I’m a believer in if you’re going to set a goal, then set it, don’t wait for a new year, month or day etc because then you’ll never do it. So here I am at the end of a Tuesday in late April! 

I’ve made several trips already this year and rather than rehash it all in single post, maybe I’ll get around to writing about those soon because let’s face it… There was some entertainment in those trips!

I am though going to rewind to March in this post to rehash my Death Valley trip. In part because it was a very challenging trip and more importantly I just finished editing images from that trip (a month ago!)... 


Lessons Learned: A little something from each trip to remember! 

  • Follow your instincts! 


As I was planning my trip to Death Valley, I had some places in mind although while digging into logistics I realized just how big Death Valley really is! It's enormous! In fact it is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states. Because of this, I wasn't able to hit everything I wanted. So this was the short list...

  • Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (just north of Death Valley)
  • Eureka Sand Dunes
  • Mosaic Canyon
  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Zabriskie Point
  • Badwater Basin

This was already a lot to pack into 3 days... Yes 3 days


Day 1 - Thursday / A long night ahead

We left home late, it was about 2:30pm for our drive to Bishop, CA just shy of 700 miles. With only a few quick stops that put us in Bishop, CA around 2am. The drive up along the west side of Area 51 was interesting... Many, many vehicles just sitting along side the road parked, several had people laying on top of the roof just watching the sky. We made one quick stop and it was amazing to see how dark the sky was out there! 


Day 2 - Friday / The day of intuition

The morning started out well, we stopped by Erick Schat's Bakkery... If you are anywhere remotely near Bishop, CA I highly recommend stopping by here. But only if you love, and I mean LOVE carbs... From there it was off to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest. This was about an hour drive from town, took us a little longer as we made some stops along the way. Once we reached the top, I found that it was a little chilly around 30 degrees and a slight breeze. By slight I mean in the neighborhood of 15mph, to it was a little cold. We hiked around one of the loops, I expected more trees but truthfully it was cold so we headed back to the car after about a 30 minute hike. The plan was to scout and come back later in the night for some milky way action! 

With needing to warm up we decided to head further back down this dirt road. This is where things got interesting. For a little back story, I had been in the middle of packing to move, I literally moved the same week I made this trip. So needless to say I had a few things going on. The tires on my Jeep I knew needed to be replaced soon and given how hectic things were I decided to get a few more miles out of them before replacing them, or so that was the plan... About 100 yards down this dirt road my tire light goes off, followed by a sigh and my head making its way to my hands. If you've never replaced a tire in the freezing cold under strong wind gusts, I HIGHLY recommend it!! So tire changed and back down the hill we go, now the dilemma was to risk the other tire blowing at the Eureka Sand Dunes or find someplace near by that had similar tires. The nearest Jeep dealership was 3.5 hours away so we decided to take our chances in town at the local Firestone. They had something similar and could fit me in quickly so I was happy! After a few moments the guy comes in and asks where I put the key for the wheel lock. Well this day isn't going well... Because in the rush of freezing my ass off, where did I leave the key... On the locknut of course, at he top of the mountain where I'm sure it fell off. So about an hour later with some muscle we had new tires on the Jeep and were off to the Eureka Sand Dunes! 

By the time we arrived at the dunes, the wind had picked up quite a bit. As you can see in the image below, there is quite a bit of sand in the air. I found a place to park and gathered myself before opening the door. I had parked into the wind (some part of me thought that was a good idea), the wind was blowing so hard I could hardly open the door and it slammed shut as soon as I let it go. I moved around to the back of the car and proceeded to open the back... As I did this all of the sand that had accumulated on the back gate and top of the Jeep proceeded to fly inside the car and all over my camera gear. I got several shots while at the dunes. 

The dark clouds you see in the panoramic image at the top, those clouds were filled with moisture falling quickly and headed towards us. So after about an hour at the dunes, we high tiled it back out as I didn't want to get stuck in any flooding that may occur. While I had planned to go back to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest later that night, it didn't happen. We ended up having cloud cover until around sunrise the following morning.


Eureka Sand Dunes

[About the Image: Taken at f11, 288mm, ISO 400, 1/500th. Processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.]


[About the Image: The pano image was taken in 5 sections each included 7 bracketed shots. Each set was merged in LightRoom, then a Pano created from the merged images. Further processing was done in Lightroom and Photoshop. Images were taken at f11, 70mm, ISO 400 and bracketed]


To get an idea what happened to my gear while at the sand dunes, see the image below. Notice the dark dust particles all over the image. 


Day 3 - Saturday / The day of redemption

Today was going to be better... I knew it would be! We set out in the morning and made our trek down to the main part of the park. Driving in from the west, is breath taking, as you keep going down, further and further. Every time you stop and look over a cliff, you can't believe you're continuing to go further down in elevation. We visited the Mosaic Canyon and the Mesquite Dunes, both interesting locations and worth stopping at although I didn't get any great images as we were there in the middle of the day. Dinner was at the 19th hole (I believe that's what it was called), for food inside of Death Valley it was ok. Zabriskie Point was next and it was crowded! I was able to get a few images, this location is ideal for sunrise so the lighting wasn't the greatest but it worked! I did lean at this location it is ideal to have a much longer lens, I had my 70-200 with my 1.4 teleconverter, I was itching to turn that dial further! 


Zabriskie PointZabriskie PointAn image from Zabriskie Point, located in Death Valley National Park. The largest National Park in the lower 48 states! [About the Image: Single image taken at f11, 280mm, ISO 400, 1/500th. The image was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.]


Next on the list was Badwater Basin. This was the the ultimate goal for this trip, the slat flats, stars and milky way... I had it all planned out! As we approached the parking lot, the very small and full parking lot, I found one space open. So I snatched it up and grabbed my gear. Now these salt flats take up nearly 200 square miles, they are the largest in the United States, and frequently visited! So off I went with my gear, about 2.5 - 3 miles out I walked to find some salts that had good formations, weren't trampled and were more photogenic! I setup and waited for sunset, it wasn't overly spectacular but it was worth waiting for. 


Badwater Basin SunsetBadwater Basin SunsetStanding at the lowest elevation in the United States at 282 ft below sea level and sorrounded by nearly 200 square miles of salt flats Badwater Basin is impressive! It is also the largest protected salt flat in the United States. If you look closely in the center of this image you can see another photographer! [About the Image: Taken at f11, 20mm, ISO 400 and 1/100th. Processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.]


This image is looking south as the sun was setting to my right. To get an idea of how fast this area is, look in the center of the frame there is a dot... That dot is another photographer! 


The next image was taken to the north, as I watched the storms roll in for a second night in a row :( ... The last image below was taken as a vertical panoramic image. At this point we were watching the rain come in and head towards us, we decided to head back and call it a night. 


Badwater SunsetBadwater SunsetStanding at the lowest elevation in the United States at 282 ft below sea level and surrounded by nearly 200 square miles of salt flats Badwater Basin is impressive! It is also the largest protected salt flat in the United States. [About the Image: Taken at f11, 32mm, ISO 400 and 1/50th. Processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.] 


Badwater StormsBadwater Storms*Badwater Storms*

Standing at the lowest elevation in the United States at 282 ft below sea level and surrounded by nearly 200 square miles of salt flats Badwater Basin is impressive! It is also the largest protected salt flat in the United States. Standing here can be intimidating as you watch the rain storms head right towards you!
[About the Image: Taken at f11, 32mm, ISO 400 and bracketed. There were 4 sets of 5 bracketed images, they were merged in their groups and then merged as a Pano. Further processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.] 


And that's it! I hope you enjoyed some of the story and the images! Next up will be Monument Valley!


Behind the scenes images:





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