Cottonball Basin

I spent two mornings at Cottonball Basin in Death Valley waiting for the sun to rise. Cottonball basin was noted in an ebook I purchased before the trip called ‘Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park’ by Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa as being among the best locations to watch the sunrise in the park. The unique salt flat shapes that form periodically throughout the year and the mountains that surround the basin on all sides make it highly photographic. However, the area is fragile so it is important to be sure that you leave no trace while hiking there so you need to be sure the weather conditions are right or else you may leave footprints in the mud for years to come. The authors noted they were fearful of including it in the book but that photo safari/groups had popularized the area in recent years so they did not feel like they could leave it out without the book being complete. Luckily, in my several days in the park I didn’t see a single soul down in this area.

Death Valley – Morning from Cottonball Basin

Cottonball Basin in Death Valley

In this image it appears like the salt flat shapes may stretch forever but this was really a rather small area of the overall ‘Cottonball Basin’ which stretches for miles in all directions. Somehow these shapes shift periodically throughout the year so it is imperative to go out the day before with a handheld GPS and pinpoint the location or you won’t be able to find them in the morning. Unlike other national parks the ‘trails’ in Death Valley are essentially non-existent as you are free to roam everywhere – however, this means you have to work to find unique and photographic opportunities as opposed to walking up to a well known viewpoint. Without the GPS I would have been completely lost many times out there in the desert.


4 thoughts on “Cottonball Basin

  1. Great shot Justin, I tried to find this area a couple of years ago, but only had limited time. I am heading out there again in November – any chance you still have the gps coordinates for this area that you could email to me?
    Jeff V.

    • Thanks Jeff – and I got your email as well – sorry for the delay in response it has been a busy week in the office and I wanted to double check my GPS device before responding. Unfortunately, as I initially thought, I did delete all of those coordinates when I was out in Rocky Mountain National Park last month. The GPS was acting up and I wanted to use it to scout a location I was heading to the next morning for sunrise. I reset it and it deleted all my previous entries. At the time I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal but in hindsight I’ve now lost the few spots I spent hours finding in Death Valley. I do remember it was like about a mile or so from the road – there was quite a bit of rain in the days before I got out there so there was also a mud puddle in the nearby area (just to the right of where this image was taken). I doubt the mud puddle aspect will help now and given the size of the area maybe the fact that it is a mile hike from the road will help. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful…wish I had saved those coordinates!

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