Finding interesting patterns in the Cottonball Basin of Death Valley National Park is not as easy as it seems when you look at this picture and geometrical shapes seem to spread out as far as the eye can see. The reality is finding these types of patterns in the direction that you want to see the sun rise or set is one of the challenges of taking interesting pictures of Death Valley National Park. The prior day I walked 6 – 8 miles back and forth across the Cottonball Basin and dropped pins on my GPS so that I could re-locate the spots in the dark the following morning. I wound up dropping around 8 pins – taking test shots during harsh lighting – and then deciding on which location to revisit the night before while scrolling through the photos on my laptop the night before.
Millions of years ago there was a giant lake sitting at the base of Zabriskie Point – covering the location I was standing in when I took this photo last year. The rising/falling water levels and erosion that it caused formed the badlands in the foreground of the image.
A popular spot for sunrise in Death Valley I spent the morning with about twenty other photographers sipping coffee and commenting on the colors in the sky. The highlight of sunrise from this point is actually the mountain range that is directly behind where I’m standing here. Unfortunately, the wispy clouds that turned so colorful in the minutes before the sun came above the horizon prevented the sun from hitting the mountain and so most people who spent the morning out there left disappointed with the outcome. I made the best of it and got a few usable shots – like this one and a couple that I’ll eventually convert to black and white of some heavy clouds over the mountain.
Sunrise over Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)
In Joshua Tree earlier this year I was pretty fortunate with two really nice sunsets during my only two nights in the park. I spent the afternoon driving all throughout the park to different locations looking for some nice Joshua Trees to put in the foreground. I also wanted to catch the hills (or are they mountains?) in the distance. The Mojave desert is one of the only places in the world where the joshua trees grow so I definitely wanted to make them one of the stars of this image.
Sunset over Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree National Park)
In Lightroom I cropped the image a bit to remove some of the distracting foreground and also added a vignette and a little more vibrance to the colors.
I spent a few days in Joshua Tree National Park earlier this year. Having more than one day allowed me to spend more time bouncing from location to location trying to take pictures of the interesting scenery. One of the more interesting hikes took me out to an old abandoned mine that passed multiple abandoned cars – left like the one in the picture below – as the settlors decided the land and the mine weren’t going to deliver the riches they expected.
Abandoned Car in Joshua Tree (Joshua Tree National Park)
Three weeks until we are off to Africa – I did wind up renting the Tamron 150 – 600 mm lens. Determined that was a better bet than buying it for $1,100. It costs $200 to rent/ship it but at the end of the day I am not sure I’d ever use it again so might as well pay the price temporarily.
Over the summer I took a trip to Las Vegas and not being much of a casino guy I drove out to the desert to spend the night. I stayed up all night and took star shots before heading over to the Mesquite Dunes for sunrise. On my previous trip to Death Valley there was very little wind so the dunes were trampled by people (like myself) walking up to the top of them for vantage points like this. However, there was a lot of wind the night before and so when I got to the dunes in the morning they were practically untouched and in pristine condition. I carefully selected where to walk in an effort to keep footprints out of the pictures of others visiting the dunes later. I guarantee by noon on this day though there were many tracks all across these dunes and if you tried to visit at night you’d struggle to find a smooth place in the sand.
Standing on Mesquite Dunes (Death Valley National Park)
The Cholla cactus is native to the Southwest US and while it looks harmless is actually a ‘jumping’ cactus so don’t get too close to them because they STICK to everything and their quills are sharp! So sharp that they even pierced my heave hiking boots when I stepped on one. I had to remove my boot and pull the quill out of the bottom of my foot – OUCH! Okay so they don’t really ‘jump’ per se but they stick to everything and they do seem to shed so their pods and quills are scattered all over the cactus garden. Despite how prickly (and painful) they are I do like the look of them at sunset. The way the sun bounces off the quills and makes them glow is pretty magical. I stayed out past sunset and had to very carefully (and slowly) navigate myself back to my car – not an easy feat with all the cacti around.
Cholla Garden Sunset (Joshua Tree National Park)
I went out to take pictures of the Joshua Tree’s under the stars but unfortunately the clouds didn’t cooperate. However, the fast moving clouds combined with the full moon made for some interesting compositions as well and I came away with several images that I liked from the middle of the Mojave desert in the full moon.
Joshua Tree Under the Moonlight (Joshua Tree National Park)
This was shot with a 12-second exposure at ISO 640. There is a city in the distance (hence the orange glow) but not sure if that is from Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Palm Springs. Geography isn’t my strong suit.