Death Valley: Day 9

February 9, 2010

I awoke before sunrise, like usual.  Today, my plan was to go for a few hikes, scout for future photos, and let the dunes bake in the sun.  There were some high clouds at times, but plenty of warm sunlight was reaching the dunes.  All I needed was a half inch of dry sand on the surface, and some wind to get rid of the rain splattered look.

I decided to hike Golden Canyon. This is a very popular hike through the badlands below Zabriskie point. I brought my Fuji GX617 panoramic camera with me.  It’s a light camera (compared to large format), so I hardly noticed it in my backpack.  The hike took a few hours, which included several side trips. I didn’t see anything I felt like shooting, but it was certainly a fun hike.

From there, I drove south in the direction of Badwater. Near the exit point of Artist’s Drive, I found some really clean cracked mud.  That last sentence might seem like a paradox for those who are not into photography.  The cracked mud in this area was free of debris, and the cracks were well defined.  There was not a single trace of footprints, and the area was large enough for me to use my panoramic camera.  I returned to my car, and retrieved the camera.

It was now late afternoon, and the clouds were starting to build.  There was one brief moment of sunlight, but I waited for a dark cloud to block the sun before taking the photo. If it was sunny, the light would be too contrasty, and my own shadow might have been in the photo.  My exposure was 1 second @ f/ 32.

(Click to Enlarge) Velvia 50 120 | 1 second @ f/32 | Fuji GX617

It was fun taking this shot, but I don’t think I will ever print it.  It is not critically sharp from edge to edge.  It gives me ideas for taking a similar shot with my large format camera though.  I can make sure it is tack sharp from edge to edge if I use a view camera.

A strong wind swept through the valley as I packed up my camera.  I could smell rain in the air.  Really?  More Rain?

I returned to my car, and headed north in search of more cracked mud locations.  I found an area near the exit of Golden Canyon with very interesting texture.  The mud here was already hard, but still in the process of drying. It had a very nice checkerboard appearance.  Unfortunately, it was already too dark by the time I found the area. Even if I setup a shot with my large format camera, my exposure would be too long, and the wind would shake the camera.   I felt very confident that this area would provide me with an excellent photo  — so long as we didn’t get any rain over night.

On my drive back to camp the AM radio station I was listening to was frequently interrupted by blips of static. I knew what that meant.  The sky became dark as I arrived at camp.  Thick, turbulent clouds filled the sky, and a curtain of heavy rain obscured the top of the alluvial fan — the same alluvial fan that the campground was located on. I had a feeling it was going to be a rough night. This was not like the slow, soaking storms I had experienced thus far.

Snapshot taken of the storm as it apporached Stovepipe Wells

I quickly made dinner, then rearranged the gear in the back of my 4runner.  There was no way I was going to sleep in my tent. As I retrieved my sleeping bag from my tent, a bright flash filled the sky. It was followed by a long and rolling crack of thunder.

The storm was on its way.

I returned to the driver seat of my 4runner, and watched the approaching storm. The first strike of lightning was about a mile away, higher up on the alluvial fan.  It was a blinding, horizontal bolt that stretched from right to left, then curved sharply to the ground.  The thunder echoed off the nearby mountains.

The second strike was much closer, several hundred yards away.  The storm was moving in my direction.

A third bolt of lightning struck just outside the perimeter of the campground.  The curtain of rain was now over me — It was a heavy rain with large drops. As  the rain started, the thunder and lighting resided.

I read my book for a while, then decided to call it a night.

During the night, I was unable to crack a window because of the constant heavy rain. To make sure I had plenty of fresh air, I opened the rear passenger door periodically through the night. Around 2Am when I opened the door,  I was startled to hear the sound of flowing water.  I turned on my headlamp and looked outside.

My entire campsite was transformed into a muddy river.  There was 3 inches of flowing water under my truck, and throughout the campsite.  I had very good judgment to sleep in my truck that night.

Watch for the coyote that trots by in the background of this video.

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