Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.
I’ve just returned from a trip to the Death Valley where I spent several days with a photographer friend photographing at various locations around the valley. It involved a lot of driving and hiking and of course photography. We woke up before sunrise and hiked in the dark to a location to photograph at sunrise every day. We drove quite a bit to remote locations where we photographed sunset, then drove back in the dark.
It sounds very tiresome but it was not because we’d have fun playing photographic jokes on each other, taking silly pictures, sharing and laughing at them. Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.
Day 5, Dawn
At night dunes are filled with animal sounds. By the morning there are lots of signs of creatures’ night life – all kind of tracks in the dunes.
Day 4, Dusk
At night dunes are calm and quiet. But as sun rises strong winds start moving sands. Dunes become violent and unpredictable.
Today I went into dunes for sunset. There was little to no wind at first then within a few minutes wind became very strong. It was not only moving dust, it was moving sand.
Would you want your skin be polished with sand paper? That’s how it felt standing in that sand storm. I had to hide behind a bush hoping that it will be over soon but it was picking up more and more. As I was standing behind the bush I saw sand settling on camera. I needed to get out.
I was walking backwards toward a road to keep my back against the wind. The fun part in walking backwards was seeing my footsteps disappear right in front of my eyes. The wind and moving send would repair the dune texture within seconds.
Sand Storm. No Visibility
Day 4, Noon
Today at noon I hiked up Mosaic Canyon. It turned to be more interesting from geological and mineralogical point of view rather than from photographical. The variety of color and texture of rocks was captivating.
On the way back I saw what looked like a steep trail up to a ridge that could open up to a view of Death Valley and Mesquite Dunes. I started climbing up.
The trail was getting steeper and steeper. At some point I had to climb up a two meter drop. I had to stop to think about how to climb it and realized that I could climb up but I would unlikely be able to climb down. There is a reason why climbers slide down on ropes. Climbing down is much harder than climbing up.
I recalled what John Shaw said when was asked if he had one advice to photographers what it would be. His answer was "Don’t be stupid". Being already 15 meters up on a very steep trail with sharp rocks and nobody else making this far into the canyon, there would be no help if I make wrong move.
I carefully retraced back my steps backward (there was no room to turn around). It took longer to get back down than to walk up. Once I had ground under my foot again, I was happy that common sense won over curiosity this time.
Day 4, Dawn
Walking dunes barefoot adds another dimension to the experience of being in sand dunes. The dunes density changes – sometimes it feels like walking on a paved road and sometimes your feet sink deep into sand. Sand texture changes too – sometimes it is grainy and rough and other times it is powder soft.
And it is so quiet and calm in the morning before sunrise. Working barefoot on sand that cooled down during night is such a relaxing experience.
Day 3, Sunset
Back in Death Valley I went to Mesquite Dunes – my favorite place in Death Valley. The wind was strong I saw dust storms on the way to Death Valley and there was a dust storm in the valley too.
As sunrise was getting closer the wind was picking up more and more. Visibility dropped. The wind was continuously moving sand. Bare legs were getting a treatment with sand paper. Sand was getting everywhere.
The sand was getting into my eyes, my eyes were teary and I could not see anything. I had to retreat back to the car, wait for my eyes to clear out and then drive away to observe this from safe distance.
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 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.