Welcome to this weeks blog post A Day in the Desert - Death Valley, CA and welcome to all my new subscribers!
Happy Thursday! Hope you're having a great week. This weeks blog entry will be looking at my day photographing the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley, CA.
As a Photographer, Death Valley has obviously always been a location I've wanted to visit and photograph. I finally got to experience the parks otherworldly vistas half way through a two week road trip through California on my honeymoon in July this year. We had a bit of a scare before we made the drive from Yosemite into the park as it was forecasted to reach temperatures near the highest ever recorded in the USA. The forecast was 130°F (54°C) for the 6th July 2017. We didn't really have a choice to avoid driving through the park as we was heading to Las Vegas so it was a case of stocking up on water, filling up on gas and going for it!
The plan for the day was make it to Stovepipe Wells where we would stay for our only night in the park, rest up and make it out for sunrise. Coming from Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite it meant we had about a 3 hour drive with no stops which wasn't too bad. To be honest I didn't have too many locations in mind to shoot on this leg of the drive, also being 50°C I didn't plan on getting out of our air conditioned SUV that much either.
First stop was Father Crowley Point which is located about 10 minutes into the park from the west overlooking Rainbow Canyon, also known as "Star Wars canyon" on Hwy 190. Named after Father John Crowley, Padre of the desert 1891 - 1940. The inscription on the monument at this viewpoint reads From the snowy heights of the Sierras beyond the deep shadows of Death Valley beloved and trusted by people of all faiths he led them toward life's wider horizons.
OK, so I've mentioned it's forecast to be hot, but oh my God when I pulled up and got out of the car the stretch my legs I felt like I was instantly on fire! It was around mid-day when I shot the image above, not ideal shooting conditions at the best of times but this heat is something else. This spot was a good starting point to experience shooting in these conditions as the overlook is located on the road, so no walking required and a good view of what lies ahead...
Back on the road towards Stovepipe Wells we had about an hour driving left for the day It started to get to me how isolated this place is! Not sure if the roads get busier in the colder months but we hardly saw anyone driving? Proper Hills have Eyes vibes...
Stovepipe Wells Village is located just west of the intersection of CA Hwy 190 (which goes south toward Furnace Creek or west toward Panamint Springs) and CA Hwy 374 which goes east toward Beatty, Nevada. Made it to the Village with plenty of time to grab food before sunset which I had planned to shoot the General Store.
This image was created by blending 2 exposures together in Photoshop. One for the sky and one for the store front. Also I was using my circular polarizer with the addition of a Lee 0.6 soft edge graduated ND filter.
Over dinner at the Badwater Saloon I had a chance encounter with New York based Travel Photographer Sam Horine. Sam's incredible work is followed by over 500k people on his Instagram account @samhorine Check his photography out if you're looking for inspiration to get out and see the world. We arranged to meet and shoot sunrise just a few miles down the road at the Mesquite Dunes.
5am we headed out onto the Dunes and what a morning we got! Not sure who the person was who hiked up to the top of the dunes in the image below but THANK YOU! He/She really gives this shot perspective of how vast this location is. I used the shape and form of this particular dune formation to mimic the mountain range in the background, creating balance and layering by cropping the shot into a panoramic. As usual 0.6 soft edge ND grad and no need for my polarizer.
Even at 5am it's pretty tricky to avoid footprints in this location. I was surprised how many people where out enjoying the sunrise with us. Just as the sun came over the mountains from the east I captured what I think might be my favourite photo from this trip so far (Left). The light in the desert here is just incredible, but it didn't last long! After running around in panic trying no to make footprints where I didn't want them before the light had gone I found one more composition that spoke to me (Right). These two images are very different to how I wouldn't normally shoot I feel? Deciding to make the main focus in both compositions the foreground was hard for me as the backdrop is so stunning, but by doing so these images have a sense of human interaction and intimacy.
Made famous by Michelangelo Antonioni's 1970 drama film Zabriskie Point sits towards the east entrance to the park and was our next stop on the way to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Even though it's reaching the forecasted heat we made the short walk up to see on of the Valleys most iconic views and try shot some images.
As soon as the view appeared from the top of the walk it was an obvious decision to shoot a panoramic. The contrast in the layers of rock makes this image very graphic and almost two dimensional. I find it quite hard to look at and work out which part of the scene is in front or behind. This would also work great in B&W but I think colour works best for desert locations. I would have loved to stick around for better light at this location but the heat was too much to wait in. Next time I visit the park I'll make sure I schedule this location in for sunrise/sunset.
We did make it to a few other locations in Death Valley but didn't get anything I was happy to share with you guys but I would say if you're planning on driving through the park a trip to Artist's Palette (You can see me attempting to shoot this spot on the left) It just wasn't the right time of day to be there. The weather man was right, it hit 130°F and it was just too hot to concentrate. Also Dante's View and Badwater Basin but we was warned by one of the employees at our hotel that today it would be too hot to visit the salt flats so we don't stop there. But by far the most amazing location we didn't get to was The Racetrack Nestled in a remote valley between the Cottonwood and Last Chance Ranges, the Racetrack is a place of stunning beauty and mystery. The Racetrack is a dry lakebed best known for its strange moving rocks.
The road to the Racetrack is rough, a 4x4 and high clearance are usually required to reach the spot. Didn't want to risk the drive off road even though we hired a large SUV.
A few words of advice:
- However much water you think you need, buy twice as much! I can't describe how much water we took in travelling through Death Valley.
- Buy a Cool Collar
- Fill up gas to full at ever gas station you see before and within the park. Depending on which route you're taking you might not see on for a while.
- Sun cream overload! Also try if you can to cover up with long sleeves whilst driving.
-Try not to have the Air Conditioning on all the time (This is a tough one) You will see plenty of signs telling you to turn it off when driving as it contributes to overheating the engine and you don't want to break down out here if you can avoid it.
- You can receive phone signal in some points of the park but try hire or buy a good 4g device to pick up that all important connection for Instagram stories or getting help if you need it. We hired ours with the SUV and it also acted as a second sat nav to our phones.
- Buy a paper map and have your route planned out.
Well thats your lot for this blog post, hope you enjoyed my day in Death Valley NP. If you would like to follow my travels please SUBSCRIBE to my blog to receive weekly posts (something to read on the tube). NEXT WEEK I'll be talking you through the editing process of one of my favourite images from my 24hrs in Yosemite blog post.
You can see my Yosemite Post here if you haven't already.
Thanks for reading,