Death Valley began its 2015/2016 winter very wet, with massive amounts of rain and even some serious flooding. Lake Manly reappeared in Badwater Basin after a multi-year absence, and many of the salt pans, canyons, and alluvial fans got a fresh scrubbing. Unfortunately all of the standing water evaporated in the weeks before our annual workshop, but it left behind great patterns. And the Godzilla El Nino kept the atmosphere moist and full of great clouds for us to photograph.
We met Thursday afternoon and after a quick round of intros headed out to a little-known spring to photograph the sunset and its reflection in the stream channels. Then it was time for dinner and an early night. And an even earlier morning the next day. 🙂 Meeting at 5:15 am we caravaned down to Badwater Basin. Parking at our “secret spot” and walking out onto the salt flats we found great patterns, beautiful salt crystal webs, and even better: one of the prettiest sunrises I’ve seen at that location. After a few hours the surprisingly cold temps put a chill in our bones and we trucked off to Golden Canyon, where a uphill hike in the sun got everyone feeling warm again. Well that, plus all the beautiful abstract patterns on offer to shoot.
With clear skies in the forecast we spent that afternoon in the sand dunes, where direct sunlight brings out the best textures and lines. It was unfortunately tough to find a spot without footprints, but that did provide the opportunity to look for smaller and less obvious scenes. After the sun went down we made our way back to the car for a snack of absurdly addictive popcorn before walking back out into the dunes for our first night photography session. That tree never felt like such a celebrity!
We began Saturday morning at iconic Zabriskie Point, where the clouds once again graced us with some beautiful color at sunrise before the sun itself cast an intriguing set of shadows across the landscape. Next we visited a new spot for us: mile marker 3.4 on Badwater Road. Why? Because of some amazing mud cracks that formed thanks to the recent flood waters. Although it can be tough to start photographing these abstract patterns once the creative juices are flowing it’s hard to leave! But breakfast eventually calls, and that is a call we heed.
In the afternoon we made a longer trek out to Cottonball Basin, a dreamland of patterns, textures, and contrasts. The clouds set up nicely and once again gave us a great light show at sunset. After a quick dinner back at the Ranch we stole out into the night for one of my favorite sessions of the workshop: light painting and star photography at Natural Bridge. A somewhat boring, muddy arch during the day, Natural Bridge takes on a fantastic atmosphere at night, especially with the stars shining down from above. But after an hour of awesome shooting our flashlight-button-pushing fingers were tired and it was time for bed.
On the final morning of the workshop we returned to a group favorite location, Cottonball Spring, and were treated to a glowing ruby and purple sunrise, that gave way to pretty pastels as the morning aged. Not a bad way to cap off the photography! We then cruised back to the Ranch for a gigantic celebratory breakfast buffet. And that is not a bad way to cap off the workshop!
Thanks so much to our wonderful and fun group, Steven, Kristen, P, Steven, Jake, Kevin, Deanne, and Phil. We had a great time in Death Valley with you all and hope to see you again soon.
~Josh and Jim