February 3, 2010
My alarm sounded at 3:45AM, but I was up by 3:40AM. I usually wake up 5 minutes before the alarm — regardless of time changes. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse, but it sure is consistent. As a courtesy to nearby campers, my insane-o’clock alarm is the sound of chirping crickets. I’m sure the others don’t even notice it.
Sleeping in a tent in the desert usually gives me the strangest dreams. I can’t recall exactly what it was about, but I seem to recall that it involved a midget and a giant block of swiss cheese. Good times.
My camera spent the night all alone at Badwater Basin. Rather than break it down after taking my sunset shot, I left it setup in the event that I decided to shoot a sunrise photo. The drive from Stovepipe Wells to Badwater takes roughly 45 minutes. According to my GPS, my camera was 33 miles from my campsite.
I grabbed a cliff bar and a gatorade for breakfast, then set out for my camera.
It was a cloudless morning. Little did I know how uncommon that would be on this trip.
For those who are not familiar with Badwater, it is best not to park at the parkinglot. Leave that to the tourists. Driver about a quarter mile beyond the parking area, and you’ll reach a sign that says “Off Road Driving Prohibited.” There is a nice shoulder here to park, and you are a lot closer to the ideal shooting areas. According to my GPS, it shaves about a quarter mile off the hike to the pristine polygons. There are some established “trails” descending from the road and across the fragile salt crust. Stick to these trails to avoid trampling the crunchy salt and mud formations.
When I reached my camera, it was still very dark. I stood and watched as the glow on the mountains became stronger, and the Earth’s shadow dropped away. Eventually, the first rays of sunlight reached Telescope Peak. It was beautiful to watch, but I did not feel motivated to take a photo. I had been spoiled by the magnificent sunset the previous evening. I folded up my camera, stuffed it into my Gregory backpack, and headed back to my truck. My trip to badwater and back consumed a quarter tank of gas. The expanse of Death Valley is startling.
Rather than spend the day at Badwater, I wanted to try for some dune shots.
Dune shots have always been elusive for me. When the sun is low on the horizon, sand dunes take on an almost magical appearance. It is very intimidating for me to shoot these locations because I never feel as though I have done justice to the natural beauty. Plus, there are the obvious problems with scouting. It is very frustrating to find a great shot, only to realize that you just walked all over it.
I headed back to camp, loaded some film in my film holders, then set out to the Mesquite dunes.
I spent the afternoon wandering about, and logging potential locations into my GPS.
It was a very warm day, there there is no shade to be found among the dunes. I setup my tripod, and suspended my jacket from it to provide some shade. The temperture was only in the 70’s, but the reflection off the sand sure made it feel much warmer. The temporary shade was very much appreciated.
As fighter jets roared by overhead, I settled on a vertical shot of the dunes. I took two shots, then hung around to see the last of the light on the dunes.
In retrospect, I’m not very satisfied with the dune shot I took. The depth of field is problematic, and I didn’t have enough height to see over the foreground dune as much as I would have liked. My tripod is tall enough for the shot I wanted, but the ground glass was too high for me to view. I need to buy a sturdy, lightweight, folding stool. This way, I can see the ground glass on my 8×10 when the tripod is fully extended. If anyone has a good suggestion, please shoot me an email.
My plans for the next day were dependent on the weather. According to the Los Angeles AM radio station I was listening to, a winter storm was on the way…