Death Valley: Day 7

February 7, 2010

I woke up at 3:45AM to the now familiar sound of rain on my tent.  It was a constant, soaking rain.

As I got out of my sleeping bag and reached for my boots, I noticed something different about my tent.  It was submerged in water.  I carefully put on my boots, then opened the zipper.  The tent was a cloth boat, sitting atop a puddle that was once my camp site.  My tent was on the highest ground available, so it was only in a half inch to an inch of water. No water entered the tent, so that was good.

I walked through the giant puddle to my truck, and decide to get an early start on the day.

It was still raining.

The main road just outside of Stovepipe Wells was completely flooded.  Double yellow lines disappeared into black pools that reflected the dark pre-dawn sky.  There are no dips in the road , so I knew it would be possible to drive through the standing water.  There was between 6 inches and a foot of water through several large sections of road.

This area, as well as many of the roads in Death Valley, are cut across alluvial fans.  These are massive, fan shaped piles of rock and sand that are eroded from the mountains above.  When it rains, water flows down the alluvial fans to the valley below.

That morning, mud, rocks, and other debris were actively flowing across the road.  Areas without standing water were often covered with up to a half foot of debris.  The snow/mud plows were not operating yet.  I saw two other cars pulled off on the side of the road, waiting for the conditions to improve.

As I passed the Devils Cornfield, the flooding and debris flows were less of an issue.

My destination for the morning was Zabriskie Point.  I did not plan on taking any photos.  I just felt like driving there to check it out.  This popular, and easily accessible viewpoint is definitely scenic, but photos from here are a dime a dozen. I really don’t like standing alongside a large group of photographers, all of which are taking the exact same shot.

The rain turned into a light drizzle as I arrived at the parking area. I walked up the short path to the overlook — I was the only person there. On a clear  day, I would be standing shoulder to shoulder with a dozen photographers.

The conditions in the badlands were very unique.  I can’t say they were photogenic, but they were unique.  Low clouds were drifting through the water soaked badlands. It made for a very layered look, but the light was flat.

Just for the heck of it, I returned to my car, and retrieved my panoramic camera. I knew the conditions were not conducive for a good photo, but I felt like taking a shot. 120 film and processing is inexpensive, and the Fuji GX617 is a very fun camera to shoot with.

An Uneventful Image of Zabriskie Point with fog (click for larger version)

non-photogenic light and fog at rain-soaked Zabriski Point

Shortly after I took this shot, the low fog cleared.  It was a very uneventful sunrise. By the time there was any direct light on the foreground or background, the sun was high in the sky, and the wonderful golden light was gone.

From here, I drove to Badwater to scope out the conditions. The clouds were low, and the light was flat. I decided to head back to my muddy campsite, and read a book for the remainder of the day.

3 Responses to “Death Valley: Day 7”

  1. David Patterson Says:

    Ben… sounds and looks like an extreme time in DV unlike what others experience in that part of the world. Zabriskie Point with no-one there at sunrise… unheard of! I still think it is a very special place, even if you are rarely alone there. And I like your pano shoot with the clouds… great atmosphere, and a nice reminder for you of your time there in the rain 🙂

  2. Ben Horne Says:

    It sure was interesting having Zabriskie all to myself. Even though I felt as though I would never print that photo, I enjoy the process of setting up the camera and thinking through the process.

    On a side note, I was just flipping through my albums on itunes. The album cover for U2’s “The Joshua Tree” was shot at Zabriskie. You can see the lava flow on the left, and the wash to their right. I had never noticed the location of that image before.

  3. David Patterson Says:

    Wow… just checked the album U2 cover out… you are correct! Had never noticed that either.

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