Day 3, Noon
With a spare tire that I put the day before I could not get far, since it was not regular size. I needed to fix that problem first. The closest town – Big Pine – was over an hour away, especially with spare tire with a limit of 50 mph.
The drive to Big Pine turned out pretty interesting and picturesque. From there I decided to drive along Sierra Nevada mountain range south and re-enter Death Valley from west. That way I would have entered the valley from every road available.
The road was very nice. If I were to go to Eureka Dunes again that’s probably the way I would approach it. And for convenience I could even stay in Big Pine for a night.
The drive to Big Pine and then driving west of Death Valley turned out very picturesque. Here is a road from Eureka Dunes with snowy Sierra Nevada in the distance:
Here is a nice roller-coaster ride to the west entrance to Death Valley with mountains in the distance hidden behind dust storm:
And here are the curves of road descending into Death Valley with its colorful mountains (click on the image to see it larger):
Day 3, Morning
The most interesting thing for me in dunes is their texture. I just walk the dunes and collect different textures like a biologist collecting specimens. And sometimes texture leads somewhere like in this case lines of the texture lead into valley. White peaks of Sierra Nevada range are visible in the distance (barely visible on a small picture). It is amazing how such extremely hot and cold places are located so close to each other.
Day 2, Sunset
Here they are – Eureka Dunes. This is the first time I went there. Their size is magnificent and awe inspiring.
Just as I approached Eureka Dunes a low pressure indicator came up on console. I stopped and stepped outside. I could here a fizzing sound coming from a punched tire. Photography aside I had to replace the tire first.
Changing tire in heat and dust is not fun. At first I thought it was kind of lame that I had made all this way without a problem and got a flat at the destination. But in retrospective I think it was good it happened there and not in the middle of the road. It was easier to change tire on a leveled camping site than a rough road. And there were other campers there who were more than happy to help.
Once the tire was replaced I was ready to photograph a sunset. And what a sunset it was!
Here is the last light on the highest dune. The clouds are still white and soft.
And here are the clouds lit up.
Day 2, Afternoon
My next destination in Death Valley was Eureka Dunes. Eureka Dunes are remote but are worth the drive. Their size is magnificent and awe inspiring.
The way I got there was by Big Pine Road coming from Scottys Castle. It was about 2 hour drive on a rough unpaved road. The views were great and I stopped several times to take photos. The very first post of the series about this trip (Death Valley) has one of the views opening up for traveller.
There are a couple of interesting sites a long the way. First one is Crankshaft Crossing that actually have a few crankshafts lying around:
And the other one is remains of a sulfur mine that was abandoned long time ago. With much of equipment abandoned to rust it looks like a scar on a landscape. One sheet of metal was loose and flapping in the wind making a squeaky sound. This made the place feel ghostly and spooky.
Day 2, Late Morning
To photograph Badwater at sunrise I went far into salt flats. On my way back I started paying more attention at the variety of structures built by water, salt and wind. About a size of human hair whiter than white these crystals were creating islands of shimmery white in salt flats.
Salt Crystals Shaped by Wind
Day 2, After Dawn
Photographing Badwater is all about finding lines that are interesting a leading somewhere. Like in this photo I found a line that can be anchored in the bottom corners and goes into the image pointing toward a cloud in the sky. And there is a nice loop at the end of it that matches the cloud.
Day 2, Sunrise
My first sunrise on this trip was at Badwater. That’s a large flat with lots of salt deposits from drying out water. The salt is brought by streams running down the mountains surrounding the valley in those rare cases there is a rain in Death Valley.
I wanted to capture psychedelic twilight and early dawn colors that I saw long time ago here but now with better techniques. This time colors were too weak, so I had to put gold-n-blue polarizer to give them a punch. I use this filter very rarely because it saturates and shifts colors too much for my taste. The only exception when I use would be photographing sunrise or sunset when rich orange colors would be expected and I don’t get those colors without this filter.
I liked how sky came out with gold-n-blue polarizer but I did not like the color cast on salt flats. Thus in post-processing I removed the color cast and put back the color of salt flats without gold-n-blue polarizer.
My first attempt to remove cast was to do color balance. Unfortunately, I could not color balance uniformly across the whole field. That’s because gold-n-blue polarizer produces different color casts depending on an angle to light source (Sun in this case). Given that this is more than 180 degree panorama the color casts produced by the filter in the middle and on the sides was significantly different. As I color balanced middle of the photo, I’d have unpleasant green color cast on the sides. As I color balanced sides I’d get magenta cast in the middle.
After that struggle I decided that the only way to fix color cast on the salt flats was to get rid of color information completely and bring back color from a photo without polarizer. The first step was putting a black and white layer on top of salt flats to remove color completely. Then I put photo filter with color picked from photo taken without the gold-n-blue polarizer. The last step was blending that with original color of this photograph to add variation and make smooth transitions between colors.
Day 1, After sunset
Dunes come to life after sunset. After heat of a day a cool breeze feels refreshing. Insects are flying, bugs are crawling, animal sounds fill the air. Lonely lights floating over dunes. Those are photographers coming back after photographing sunset. 🙂
In Dunes at Twilight
Day 1, Afternoon
This is a beginning of a story about my photographic trip to Death Valley. One of the things that I did differently this time around was writing a journal of some thoughts about scenes I saw and events that happened.
Death Valley is an unique place. It is a place of extreme heat, lack of water and Nature’s way to show adaptation and survival of life. It is a place of extreme contrasts – from heat of the bottom of the valley to cold mountain tops, from dunes at the bottom to forests at the tops.
Every time I go to Death Valley I spent most time in dunes. I’m captivated by their perfect geometry of line, shape and texture. That’s where I stent most of my time on this trip too. But let’s not skip too far ahead and start at the beginning.
Upon arrival to Las Vegas airport I rented a car – a large SUV with foldable second row of seats, so there is a large enough flat area in the back. The reason was that the way I travelled was very minimalistic: I slept in the car. Before going to Death Valley I stopped at the closest grocery store and loaded up the car with water and food for the whole trip.
Once all preparation was done without much delay I took off to Death Valley. After about 3 hour drive I arrived there. The weather was great. The sky was filled with clouds. It was not typical for Death Valley but great for landscape photography.
Road to Eureka Dunes