We arrived at the park following a 2+ hour drive from Las Vegas, stopping first to check out Zabriske Point, one of the more popular locations in the park. With no clouds in the sky, the mid-morning sun created harsh conditions for traditional landscape photography, so we talked about different things that one can still do, even with less-than light. Thinking in terms of black-and-white and abstract opportunities was discussed and practiced. We’d shoot sunrise at this spot later in the trip, so no pressure here, but what we were able to practice, and think about during this stop would help us down the road as we opened our minds to what is possible here. Death Valley is not as “cut-and-dry” as other spots like say, Glacier National Park, where the obvious image is, well, obvious. More on this later.
Dining at Death Valley can be hit-or-miss, and the more you know the better off you’ll be. We ate as often as possible at the luxurious, and historic, Inn at Death Valley while mixing in fun stops at local dives with names like ‘Badwater,’ ‘Last Kind Words Saloon,’ as well as at a roadside watering hole located quite specifically right in the middle of “noplace,” Panamint Springs. When we made time for a few hours of sleep each night, we did so at Furnace Creek, a fantastic little oasis of emerald amongst a vast expanse of brown baked desert. Because of the tree cover, some exposed water, and greenery at Furnace, it just might be your best Death Valley opportunity to photograph wildlife, be it a coyote, roadrunner, or a Say’s Phoebe. It was here at Furnace Creek that on the afternoon of July 10, 1913, the United States Weather Bureau recorded a high temperature of 134 °F, which stands as the highest ambient air temperature ever recorded on the surface of the Earth
The flow for the early portion of this trip was as such: drive up to a spot that seems not unlike any other along a dusty long stretch of road, get out, grab our things (all of your things – yes, your tripod, too), and then walk for what feels like forever (“.5 mile,” maybe, says the guide) out to a spot in the middle of a mud/salt playa. We find ourselves surrounded on nearly every side by mountains, the Panamints to our west, the Amargosa Range to the east. The valley, where these playas exist, stretches north to south for hundreds of miles.
“So, what are we looking for,” one might ask. Well, look down. See those large, crazy interesting, and almost curiously congruent mud cracks? That’s what we’re looking for!