Death Valley National Park is amazing wonderland of vast geologic diversity, ripe with photographic opportunities. Nestled in this vast wasteland are various sand dune areas, natural springs, mud marshes, high snow covered peaks, and a dry salt lake 282 feet below sea level. With ample weather overhead, the park is truly magical, even though its a rare occurrence in the desert. We had run into some good luck as we started our first Death Valley workshop of the 2014 season. The skies were full interesting clouds and really helped to enhance the already natural beauty of this amazing park.
After our orientation the night before, our group got a chance to get acquainted with the other participants and the instructors, pro-photographers, Jean Day and Scott Donschikowski. A photographers work starts early, well before sunrise, and with a 5:30am start, we made our way to Zabriskie Point, which a fabulous western facing overlook with an elevated view of the snow-covered Panamint Range and in the distance and mud stone wash below with Manly Beacon, being our focus. The beautiful warm colors of this area are leftovers from the Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up over 5 million years ago. We were treated with a beautiful sunrise and after the nice light show, we made our way down into the wash to get a different perspective of the area.
From there we headed to the Cottonball Marsh, which is a huge flat expanse of mud, salt, and water formations displayed with the Panamint mountains in the background. The marsh is vast area and we encouraged our class to get out and explore it to find interesting compositions which are scattered about the expanse of the area. After working up and appetite, it was time return to the resort for lunch and nap.
With lunch in the bag, we went out again in the afternoon to the Artists Drive, which is a one way loop through an area of the eroded hillsides of the Amargosa Range. This area is known for the erosion which has uncovered and oxidized various minerals providing this areas namesake, Artists Palette. The various minerals (iron salts, manganese, and mica) are all exposed and somewhat restricted to a single area, making photos of it an easy and nice composition, to which we all add a bit of saturation to help pronounce the colors.
Our last stop of the day was the Badwater Basin. At 282 below sea level, this is one of the weirdest places on earth, not because of the depth, but because of the salt crust formations on the playa floor. The hexagonal shapes are formed through the process of the constant evaporation of water, in which the water dries and salt expands, creating these polygonal saucers. Truly amazing! And with some clouds to boot, we had a pretty nice sunset out on the playa. We stayed until the light faded, and finally made our way to the resort for the next full day of shooting.
After waking a little earlier today, we headed up north, this time making our way to the Mesquite sand dune area. The dunes here are very stable, unlike other dune formations in other deserts, the ones on Mesquite Flat are surrounded by mountains and the winds that shape them converge, enabling them to retain their shape over time. Walking out to the dunes in dark can be a challenge, but after the sun lights the sky in east a little, its easier for Jean and I to orient ourselves and take the group to an area with less footprints than the main area around Star Dune. We were treated to one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. Jean and I, and the rest of the class were absolutely stunned at the luck our group had with the weather this particular morning. Wow!
Next stop this morning was a little river wash called Mosaic Canyon, named for the mosaic breccia (gravel) formations carved out of the canyon walls. The patterns in Mosaic Canyon are brilliantly photogenic, with the breccia and marble providing layers upon layers, weirdly canvasing the little slot canyon from top to bottom. As the sun got a little higher, it time head back for break and checkout.
After our midmorning break we headed out of the park to grab some food in Beatty, NV from a nice little home cooking eatery that always succeeds in filling us up and giving us food coma.
Rhyolite ghost town was next on the list for today; its a little town nestled in the bullfrog hills just outside of Beatty. Gold was discovered here in the early 1900's and soon afterward thousands converged on the town and surrounding hillsides. It just wasn't to be though, and in 1920, shortly after its start, it was deserted. Not much is left of the town, but the ruined buildings are what make it interesting to photograph. That and the nearby Goldwell open air museum, which is made famous by the white ghostly figures watching the road for approaching guests.
Finally, we made our way back to the Badwater area, or rather an arm of the vast salt flat, which reaches out toward the west-side road. The salt pan formations are a little different here, being nearly 10 miles away from Badwater proper. The salt saucers here are a little whiter in shade, and a little closer to the mountains, to give us a different view. After being treated to another great sunset, we headed back the resort area after an awesome two days of great weather, and even greater photos!
Much thanks to all of our participants, you guys make this the most fun! And until next time…
Jean, Scott and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team.
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.