Journals: Exploring Death Valley - March 2019

Truth be told, I was never interested in visiting or photographing Death Valley until the last few years. I had a pre-conceived notion of what this arid desert would look like, and it wasn’t until I started seeing photos of this National Park from fellow nature photographers that I knew I had to go. There is a beauty to Death Valley that is difficult to describe. The shapes and textures of the terrain are unlike anywhere else. After spending four glorious days here, I found myself wondering why it took so long to discover this jewel.  The landscape is breathtaking, and I can foresee many return trips.

There are only a couple of accommodations inside the park, both very overpriced. I opted to stay at the Longstreet Inn & Casino on the Nevada side, which was only a half-hour drive outside the park and a much more affordable option.

My first stop was at Artist's Palette, which is accessed by a 9 mile one-way road on the south side of Death Valley. The drive winds through canyons and mountains, with a turnout at the Artist's Palette lookout. The location is appropriately named, since the colors in the mountain are extraordinary. The colors are produced by oxidation of the metals and elements in the ground, creating a rainbow effect including greens, blues, purples, and oranges.  Then if you turn around to face the other direction, this is what you get.



The next morning was spent at Zabriskie Point, probably the most visited overlook at Death Valley. The texture, size, and shapes of the mountains from this point are jaw-dropping. As you might expect, sunrise and sunset are the prime time to be here. Photographers can have a heyday at this spot, especially those interested in abstract lines and curves. There are also a number of hiking trails for those who wish to see more of the area than just from above.

Death Valley, Zabriskie Point, California, ridges, photo

Hardlined

Sunset and sunrise aren’t the only time to be at Zabriskie Point. We spent a few hours here after midnight photographing the milky way. Death Valley is perfect for star gazing since it is far away from any city lights and is famous for its crystal clear night skies. On this particular evening, the moon started to rise about 2am providing some great incredible soft moonlight over Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley, Zabriskie Point, California, Milky Way, Moonlight, stars, night, sky, photo

Moonlight Over Zabriskie

The next morning we head to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. This area is known for its extreme temperatures, and holds the record for hottest temperature ever recorded in the continental United States. Badwater Basin is a bizarre landscape. Periodic rainstorms flood the valley and cover the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. The water evaporates quickly in this environment and leaves clean crystals on the valley floor. This results in a crystalized floor of salt deposits that appear like something you would expect to see on the moon.

Death Valley, California, Badwater Basin, salt flats, desert, southwest, photo

Salt of the Earth

The rest of my short stay at Death Valley was spent driving around the area and exploring different trails and locations. My favorite trail was the 3-mile Golden Canyon trail. The trailhead starts from an access point on Badwater road, and It gradually winds uphill through a rocky corridor of amazing rock walls. Preparation for all hikes in Death Valley is critical, as the temperatures can soar very quickly. My only advice is to take twice as much water as you think you will need, and wear a hat that keeps you shaded. The other area that shouldn’t be missed are the sand dunes of Death Valley.

The famous Racetrack Plaza was closed when I was there, as the road had become impassable due to recent rainstorms. I intend to visit again someday and hit those sections of the park that I missed on my first trip.

Posted in Trip Reports.