Dawn in the Desert (Death Valley National Park)

At the beginning of 2014 following a meeting with a client in Los Angeles I made the three or four hour drive over to Death Valley National Park to take some photos. I had every intention in going out to find the sailing stones on the Racetrack Playa. If you don’t know what those are click on the link and take a few minutes to read about the phenomenon. However, I ultimately for the sake of my rental car and because of the odd amount of rain the desert was getting during this period decided not to make the treacherous trip out there. If I ever make it back though I may rent a jeep and take the four hour trek out there and stay the night – the images I’ve seen of the tracks trailing these stones are pretty amazing.

The Cottonball Basin is much easier to access and is located only about a half hour or so from the entrance of the park. The only challenging part in creating this image before the sun comes up is to find an interesting pattern of salt flats. In order to do that I went out the day before – with my GPS – and marked specific locations I wanted to head back to. I numbered them on my GPS and also took pictures that corresponded with those numbers. The night before I went through all those pictures and settled on this location to head to first thing in the morning. I liked that the salt flats were well defined and the geometrical shapes were easy to spot not only from right at my feet but also into the distance. These spots are not easy to find and the previous day I probably spent four or five hours walking a good ten miles in process to find a handful of spots like this that would be photogenic. I got lucky with the weather this morning as it was really clear and thus there was a nice alpenglow on the mountains as the sun was still below the horizon in the distance.

Dawn in the Desert (Death Valley National Park)

Pre-Dawn in the Desert (Death Valley National Park)

Death Valley is an interesting place and it is huge. Driving from one end to another takes hours and given that it is desert and most of the ground is cracked, landscape is barren and there really isn’t any coverage of any kind anywhere it is somewhat boring to look at which makes the drive a bit challenging as well (compared to say Glacier National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park where there are mountains all over the place and the changes in elevation bring different trees, ecosystems, etc…). However, despite that if you do have a chance to visit and have the time to drive through it I would highly recommend it. Especially as close as it is to major tourist locations like Los Angeles and/or Las Vegas (about ninety minutes). Most of the areas – like Cottonball Basin and Badwater Basin – are just off of the main roads and it is pretty easy to step out of your car and walk around. Just be sure to get back before dark because unlike parks with trails everything in Death Valley looks the same so if you are out at night and don’t know where your car is you are unlikely to find it until the morning.


16 thoughts on “Dawn in the Desert (Death Valley National Park)

    • It is a challenge out there for sure. I was out there middle of last year for nighttime photos and didn’t do anything during the day to scout the location. Needless to say my ability to capture an interesting sunrise location was impossible since I couldn’t see anything in the middle of the night.

  1. Never been there, and by coincidence, I watched a good documentary on these places last weekend. Your text gives useful (danger!) extra information, and your picture composition and striking colour beat all other views I’ve seen so far

  2. Beautiful shot! We just got back from DV, and pretty much felt the same way about the Racetrack. I wanted to see it, but the roads were damaged from flooding in October, so I couldn’t drive out there. Guess I’ll have to go back! πŸ˜‰

    • That’s too bad that the roads were too bad for you to make out the racetrack. I hope to get there one day but also read that some jerks actually drove over some of the racetrack and left tire marks in some of the prime photo locations. I really hate when people do things that desecrate nature. I saw a couple really nice shots on your blog – and really like the nightsky one you just published a few days back.

      • Ugh. Yeah, people are stupid sometimes. When we hiked down in the badlands below Zabriskie, a lot of the mud tile areas had people’s names written in the now-dry mud…and you know it’ll probably be there for quite some time, until they have enough rain to get the ground muddy again. 😦

        Thanks! The night sky there just blew my mind. So…many…stars!!! πŸ™‚

    • It’s a really pretty place – and a park I’m glad I’ve been able to visit twice now. The second time through I didn’t do any scouting though so my images don’t have the same ‘pop’ because the foreground isn’t as interesting.

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