Death Valley 2011: Day 8

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Last night was interesting. The temperature was in the mid 40’s as I sat and read a book with my headlamp. In the distance, I heard the wind rustling through the desert brush. As the breeze swept through my camp site, I was startled by a instant change in temperature. In just a brief moment, the temperature climbed nearly 15 degrees.

It was bizarre.

Santa Ana winds blew throughout the night. Fortunately, the wind was never a problem.

I awoke before sunrise, and broke down camp. You see, last night I made up my mind to forgo the dunes and head straight to Racetrack. I would save my epic dune shot for another trip.

The drive from Stovepipe Wells to Racetrack takes you from sea level to 3600 feet. Quite understandably, it’s much colder at the higher elevation. It was 50 degrees in Stovepipe Wells, and 24 degrees as I approached Racetrack. Even so, my windows were down to let in the fresh air.

Upon arrival, I promptly backed my truck into a rock (ouch), then setup camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon scouting Racetrack Playa.

Of all the rocks on the playa, only one caught my eye. Its well defined trail was truly stunning. Better yet was its position on the playa.

The playa here was clean, and my view was to the north. On my last visit to racetrack, I learned that the northerly sky was a hotbed for afternoon cloud formation.

I returned to my truck, packed my 8×10 camera, and schlepped it onto the playa.

Beautiful clouds streamed across the sky all afternoon. As sunset grew near, they retreated to the south, leaving the sky barren in my shot.

With just 20 minutes remaining before sunset, someone flipped a switch. Cloud formation was underway. Though far off in the distance, upper level winds carried these clouds toward my position.

As the sun slid behind the mountains to my west, the clouds rapidly approached. I readied my camera, metered the scene, and waited for these clouds to be illuminated by the setting sun.

It never happened.

A cold wind swept over the playa and the temperature dropped below freezing. It’s amazing how fast that happens in the high desert.

I’m sure many of you have some questions right about now. What kind of photography blog is this? For the second half of this trip, all I’ve done is haul around a heavy camera, and not take any pictures with it. Maybe I should just rename my blog to “Ben Horne Photography: Contemporary Hiking with Furniture”

You might think I was discouraged after today’s events. After all, I spent the entire day setting up a shot, waiting around, and getting skunked at the last minute. If this is what you’re thinking, you’re wrong.

Believe me, I was in no way discouraged that evening. Listen to the tone of my voice in the video. I was happy and excited to be there even though the light never showed. I’ll even admit to dancing (poorly) around the playa that evening — though it was mostly an attempt to restore circulation to my extremities.

I absolutely love being out there. So long as I come back from a trip with just one shot, I consider it a success. Every click of the shutter is a learning experience. Every sunrise and sunset I view is a learning experience. By simply observing the world around me, I am better equipped to predict and photograph amazing moments.

I left my camera on the playa that night, and hiked back to my car. I looked forward to a nice warm dinner, and my down sleeping bag.

9 Responses to “Death Valley 2011: Day 8”

  1. Jonny Taulen Says:

    Nice as always 🙂
    Love the bloopers 😉

  2. Bill Pelzmann Says:

    “Contemporary Hiking with Furniture” – I love that title.

    Your personality and sense of humor are a perfect match for LF photography.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks Bill. There are certainly times when I need to be serious and focus on the task at hand — but most of the time I’m just having fun out there. 🙂

  3. bob francella Says:

    Absolutely beautiful, I loved it.

  4. bob francella Says:

    where do you get the music for the video, it fits the video and enhances the show.

  5. john salgado Says:

    Hey Ben, I really love your blog and the stories you are telling.I have often thought what it must be like to go with you on one of your trips , this gives me some idea. Thanks for letting us backstage!

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