Growing up in California, I always knew about many places and wonders this State has to offer. I always heard about places in the “other” California, Southern California that is. A certain place down there out along the easterly plains to a remote area bordering Nevada called Death Valley. Just the name itself kept me away all this time with absolutely no desire to visit. After all, a desert is usually a place where humans just don’t belong. We need food and water – this is a place that doesn’t have either for us. As I get older and more experienced in life, am I becoming more aware, more open to new experiences or just plain stupid? Perhaps a bit all, I’m sure. For some reason,
with camera in hand, places like this seem to call to me.
There was a photo meet up and I luckily skated in at from a last minute cancellation. Our arranger, Graham, rented a Mercedes Sprinter super van complete with satellite Wifi! Now that’s traveling in style! Crammed in the van with several hundred pounds of camera kit in the back, the 9 or 10 hours journey to the land of death we go.
As we close in on the park (it’s a national park), you can just sense the
anticipation for the other 10 photographers as the ‘oohs and aahs’ begin to float around inside the cabin. We were all glad to leave the greater SF Bay Area as it had been raining for days and having the break from this storm was a welcoming prospect. We come upon a service truck – actually, it was a bulldozer like tractor complete with shovel mounted at the front. We follow for a while … I failed to mention that the storm had made its way southeast right over the valley and was raining when we got into the park itself – a rarity as it’s usually as its one of the driest places in North America. I just knew this was going to be a special time to be here. A few little rolling hills here and there before the
truck stops in front of us, we do in kind. It pushed forward. We follow. Then, it veers off to the side. It had cleared rocks and mud from the road as there was a washout across the road. When it rains like this, apparently, the ground is used to it (rock hard) so water usually runs off. Funny thing about water is that it always wants to find the lowest point – a gravity thing I’m sure. Even though the road was “clear”, water was still gushing across the road about 1/2 a tire high. We wait a moment for it to subside a bit, we
continue onward passing the service truck – probably not the best strategy, but it was getting dark and we still had a ways to go to get to our motel. A few more washouts and we finally arrive.
During check-in we were informed that due to a lightning storm a couple hours earlier … damn … I love lightning storms (photographing them that is) … the area’s electricity transformer had been struck, blowing it out. They promised to have electricity restore tomorrow some time. No biggie … (electricity finally return on the last night [of 3], it was like camping with no electricity or light – call it ‘glamping’)
The next couple of days were filled with sunrise and sunsets in many different parts of the valley – each very different from each
other. So different that you think you’re in a completely different area each time. I had always thought a desert was just filled with sand, but boy was I wrong! Not here in Death Valley. Yes, there’s the sand dunes that seemingly go on forever. Walking along the wind swept dunes at their peaks was a bit unnerving especially with somewhat heavy camera gear. Luckily, the rain had packed the usually soft sand into something firm to walk on, so there was little sinking into it with every step which allowed us to trek further in less time than usual. Other areas in the valley gave us the salt flats; areas with names like Badwater Basin – probably because of the saline content, it’s unpotable (the lowest elevation in North American (something like 330+ ft below sea level) and
the Devils Golf Course. I’ve never been on the Moon, but this is what it felt like. Unearthly for sure, was the feeling. It was hard, jagged and crusty (salt deposits forming the low-lying formations never I’ve seen before); if you slipped and fell on it, it would surely slice your skin like a sharp knife. With each different area, the explosion of color excited the senses. It was hard to imagine that the desert could give us so much.
Since there the valley, of course, there’s surrounding mountains of which you can
conveniently drive up and look down onto the valley itself. The word Spectacular doesn’t do the views any justice. Like photographing many things, it’s difficult to describe what it’s like – you just have to come here yourself to experience it and know what I’m talking about. During the 70s, there was a show called The Twilight Zone. Graham had pointed out that there was one episode that was set in Death Valley. The episode was about 4 Astronauts whose original mission was to outer space. They crash landed “somewhere” and throughout the show, it
showed the bad side of human nature in survival mode ending up with only 1 person standing. In the end, they though they had landed on the Moon and had no way back to Earth when in reality, they never made it out of Earth’s atmosphere and merely landed in the mountains (Zabrieski Point to be exact) of Death Valley. There’s so much to experience here and it requires several days at a time as well as multiple visits. I will be back in the not too distant future for sure …