Every visit to Death Valley presents something new. Sure the salt flats and sand dunes are in the same place, but the landscape is still changing, still shifting and eroding, then rebuilding. Even the springs feed water into the valley at different rates creating beautiful reflecting pools and waterways, then drying up to thin trickles. We always like to scout a few locations before the workshop to see how each of our “go-to” spots are doing, altering the plan if need be.
This year, we began the Death Valley workshop at one of the newer places in the park, a wash of cracked mud created by the floods of October 2015. Despite two years of weathering these mud tiles have held up well enough to make a return visit. Despite the clear skies, it’s always great to use the low angle sun light to your advantage before waiting on twilight’s glow to end the evening. Our first sunrise followed on the expansive salt flats of Badwater Basin where the morning light swept across the land after some soft blue hour hues. After some serious snacking, we headed for a short hike through Golden Canyon to explore the lower badlands beneath Zabriskie Point. Red Cathedral and Manly Beacon provided a scenic backdrop for a mid-morning shoot.
After lunch, we headed out to the salt and mud patterns in the Cottonball basin. As the clouds built up, there was indeed some anticipation in the air. As the colors continued to turn, we knew we were in for a a treat. The full spectrum of sunset colors, from golden yellows through purples burned the sky well after sunset. Surely, one of the best of the year. After dinner, we headed to Natural Bridge to get a night shoot in with the nearly full moon competing with our normal plan of light painting. The cloud cover from sunset never quite cleared either, so our sky full of stars din’t quite pan out, but considering the sunset, having the night session be more about education than getting an amazing shot was a certainly an acceptable concession.
Satuday’s sunrise started off with another bang as the pink glow in the sky covered an ample portion of the sky. We visited the waterways of Cottonball basin this time around, and found plenty of leading lines to reflect the alpenglow on the north end of the Panamint Range. Alluvial fans and layers of ridges always catch the morning light so well, adding more depth to an already majestic scene. With a long afternoon and evening session planned ahead, we headed to breakfast for $15 breakfast burritos rivaling the quality of the $1 Menu at McDonald’s. Geesh! After the break, we went over some image critique before heading out to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for the late afternoon light and sunset. The dunes always are a favorite location due to their myriad of photogenic attributes. Small ridges catching the sunlight, mud tiles, mesquite brush, animal tracks, sweeping dunes, and more offer us so many choices. The full moon rising to the east certainly livened up spirits as the sunset to the west, well, it was a fizzler. What can you say other than you can be in a wonderful location, have the composition all lined up, but if the light doesn’t cooperate, you just have to go with the flow. Dinner at Stovepipe Wells felt like a 5 star restaurant compared to the offerings at Furnace Creek, and we had a hearty group dinner before one last night session photographing our favorite mesquite brush.
On our final morning, we photographed a splendid sunrise over Zabriskie Point and surrounding badlands. The clouds lit up with pink before the layered landscape lit up with warm morning light.
Of course, a warm and hearty thank you to our outstanding and fun group, Brittany, Wayne, Jim, Sonya & Paul, Lynn & Dan, and Mahesha. It was a joy spending the weekend with you in Death Valley, and we hope to see you next time!
~Josh and Jim