Death Valley 2011: Day 6

Friday, January 21, 2011

I woke up before sunrise to scout the dunes. I hiked through the dark to my favorite section.  The only sound that morning was a pair of crows on a nearby dune. They squawked and cackled, then leaped into the air, and soared overhead. Their feathers were heavy in the air — as though they were waving a jacket over my head. A glimmer of light appeared on the horizon as the birds soared away from me.

The sunrise was simple that morning. There were no clouds —  just a fiery orb rising on the southeastern horizon. The dunes to the west are first to be illuminated by the first golden rays of sunlight. Soon after, I too was bathed in light.

The landscape around me was impressive. Every ripple of sand was magnified by the low angle of light. I traversed the dunes in search of an ideal composition.

I didn’t find a composition that morning.

Without a composition I was happy with, I would not be able to take a shot the next morning.

Although I consider a trip to be successful if I walk away with just one keeper, I hate going several days without taking a shot. In a perfect world, I would take at least one photo each day. This provides a sense of accomplishment.

On day 5, I failed to find a great sunset location at the dunes. Now, I don’t have a sunrise shot for day 7.

Despite being surrounded by beauty, I was frustrated at my inability to find a clean, simple composition.

I formulated a plan to shoot Badwater one last time.

I returned to my car, packed up my gear, and drove 40 miles south to Badwater.

Guided by my GPS, I returned to the location of the wind incident on day 4. Much to my dismay, this area was high and dry. There was no sign of water.

Not only had the strong desert winds pushed much of the water to the south, it also accelerated the evaporation process.  The water never returned.

I took off my pack, placed it on my chair, and spent several hours scouting for an ideal foreground — something different than my previous shots.

It was then that I saw a dark spot below the surface of the water. I moved closer to investigate.

The mysterious salt pattern (frame grab from video)

The bizarre pattern in the salt resembled an impact. Dark linear streaks radiated from a hole in the salt. Surrounding the hole was a fresh ring of salt.

The near perfect circular hole measured roughly 4 inches in diameter. I probed it with my foot, and did not sense a bottom.

A closer view of the salt hole

If anyone knows what would cause such a bizarre formation, I would love to hear from you. It’s truly a mystery to me.

Although the formation was very interesting, I decided not to use it as a foreground. The water was too deep here, and the formation did not give the calm feel that I was after.

Later that afternoon, I settled on a composition, and setup my camera for a morning shot.


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