The Death Valley trip was an exciting one for me. A place I have seen so much of but had yet to actually experience with my own eyes (and lens). Having 4 full days allowed me to casually plan out places to capture depending on conditions. This flexibility meant leaving the Racetrack til last. The main reason being that I happened to visit during the coldest stretch of the season. Camping below freezing every night with daytime highs barely out of the 40s (til the last day). My thought process meant it would gradually warm up toward the end of the week and the Racetrack is at 3700ft, which means colder.
Arriving at the Racetrack is no easy feat. 26 miles of washboard road. 4wd and high clearance recommended. After rattling my way for an hour the playa (dried ancient lake bed) appears as a white dish amongst the encompassing mountains. My heart beats a little faster and my right foot gets heavier.
As I pull up to the parking area and hop out the sun is warm but there is already a chill in the air. It’s late afternoon and the best evening light is yet to come but it’s about a mile from the car to the best rocks. These rocks, the reason I made this bone-jarring drive, move. On their own. And no one’s ever seen it. As they do they leave patterns in the playa. It’s speculated that a mix of wet playa and STRONG winds create this unique phenomenon (some rocks are upwards of 100lbs). So off I go, camera bag packed, extra clothes a must. Gloves, hats, long underwear….
As I trek across this overwhelming unique landscape I start to encounter the rocks. Different shapes, sizes, patterns. I have a couple of shots in the back of my mind to try and capture so finding the right rocks and patterns is essential. The first pair of rocks that catches my eye has me put a note in my head…ok…this is the shot. And I continue. Not 10 minutes later, as I explore further I come across the rocks you see below. Ah ha! Not the first one…THIS was my shot. Ok. Note. Off I go to keep shooting. The sun setting lower, about to disappear below the mountains for the evening. A group of 3 who was out in the corner packs up as the sun goes and they’re gone in to the twilight. I’m alone. Very very alone. It’s quiet. More quiet than one could possibly imagine. So quiet in fact that my ears are ringing. I find this quite confusing with my only explanation being that with modern life we have so much entering our ears constantly that the absence of which creates its own noise. Pretty amazing.
I head back to the pair of rocks as the light is almost faded and the moonlight is taking over. Just a quarter moon but at a location like this it’s bright enough to see without using my headlamp. As I set up the shot I realize that the photograph would be much more powerful if the moon was a bit lower and casting a better shadow on the rocks. Well, the decision was made. I set up the camera and tripod, took the battery out and kept it in my pocket (batteries hate cold weather) and went back to the car for dinner. Let the moon set a bit and then attempt the shot.
Funny thing about leaving a black camera and tripod in the middle of a place like the Racetrack. Not so easy to find! Luckily my way points combined with my phone made the process not as scary as it could have been. However, by the time I left the car the temperature was already in the upper 20’s. 2 pairs of socks. 2 layers on the legs. 4 layers on the body. 2 hoods and a winter hat plus my gloves. Yes. I looked quite hilarious. Now for the photograph. A 1 hour (yes, 60min) exposure of the sky. Calculating my settings and clicking the shutter I knew the only thing left was to wait. And wait. And wait. I walked laps around the playa. Laid on my back and watched the stars (shooting and still). Played some card games. And finally….that comforting click. I could pack up and finally warm up back at the car.
With the current technology my camera processes the photograph for another hour, so I set my alarm to remind me, headed to warmth and waited. As soon as the beep went off I dove across the car to the trunk to pull out the camera and peep at the back. Even with the moon out I nailed the exposure. This huge sigh of relief goes through the body that all that time and effort (and cold!) was not for waste. Of course when the car read 14F the next morning I knew the sunrise shots were going to be just as cold…
Limited Edition of 50. Artist Proof of 5.
Available ONLY through an aFeinberg Gallery. Please contact a consultant or email for more information!
Tag: death valley
Tales from the Racetrack.
Having seen photographs of this mysterious place, I was excited to make my maiden voyage out to this remote stretch of playa or ancient, dried lake bed. While no one has ever seen the rocks move it is believed a combination of water and wind is needed to move these rocks, some up to 100lbs, across the surface. And in turn, they leave us their tracks. Some straight. Some curved. Some just mind boggling confusing. I spent a night, a very very cold night, and a morning out shooting this magical place. Wondering around by myself in the quietest place one could possibly imagine, surrounded by one of nature’s wonders was a real treat. As the sun crested the nearby mountain (the playa is at approximately 3700 ft above sea level), the strong backlight made for some wonderful textures in the playa and really accentuated the tracks of some of the rocks. I explored for quite some time letting my mind play with the abstract shapes and textures. This one in particular I found quite interesting. Enjoy!
Day 3 of my Death Valley excursion. Badwater. Aptly named as this is the lowest point in North America, at the hottest spot on earth, and there’s actually a small pool of water at this point! Of course the amount of salt in the water makes it completely undrinkable…hence the name. An ancient lake bed, this amazing place collects all the minerals and salt from the surrounding land that drain in to the basin during floods. These minerals then form amazing shapes and polygons out on this seemingly endless stretch of salt. As luck would have it this was my one good sunset with clouds…and it was super promising. As I scouted the area I eventually set off on a trek out to find the best examples of this phenomenon that I could. While doing so I came across this particular formation that really caught me. With the late afternoon light it seems as if it were a tree of salt. I snapped this photo and then moved on as I was constantly looking for unique shapes. Of course little did I realize that I would try, without success, to find this spot again once sunset took hold. Glad I stopped when I did 🙂
Of Rock And Time
We now skip ahead to my third morning in Death Valley. Having seen plenty of photographs of Zabriskie Point, admittedly I was not overly enthused about capturing this icon. Dont know why really just the pull to capture it wasnt there. However, after photographing an incredible sunset at Badwater the evening before I had the time, and was in the right part of this huge National Park, to be able to try and catch sunrise from here. Easily accessible it’s one of the first stops coming in to the Valley from Las Vegas. This particular morning it was chilly…quite chilly. Even though much of Death Valley is below sea level this overlook is around 5000ft above the valley floor. Bundled up I made my way out to this spire of earth which placed me in a great spot to capture the unique landforms and colors that this location supplies. As the sky was quite clear (not what photographer’s hope for) the best light was actually about 20min before sunrise during the intense twilight glow that happens before sunrise and after sunset. This special light brought the scene to life and really enhanced the striations in the rock. Now if only there was a hot chocolate stand nearby… 🙂
For more information on this and other recent Death Valley photos please email us through the site or contact any aFeinberg Gallery!
Return from the Valley of Death
Back on Kauai, I have just spent 4 full days in Death Valley for the first time. Somehow it managed to coincide with the coldest tempertuares of the year as I experienced below freezing weather every night with the coldest being 14F on the last night at the Racetrack. Very bizarre considering the hottest temperature ever recorded was in this valley.
Having seen images from DV for years it was with much anticipation that I was able to visit and see for myself. The park itself is HUGE. Many hours to traverse across it with many roads needed 4wd and high-clearance. My car provided me with decent amounts of both for some good off-roading and washboard type roads. But no boulder hopping this time 😛
While there are many stories and images to share I will start with this photograph made on my first evening at the park. After getting some good advice to visit these remote dunes I headed out after my morning shoot clear across the park…2+hrs away. What I didnt realize is that these dunes were not right next to the road. As I followed the dirt roads I realized that it was going to be a park and hike kinda day. I picked a spot about in the middle of the length of this stretch of sand, packed my bag, water, WARM clothing, put a pin on my phone map so I didnt lose my car…and off I went. Looking out across the wash the dunes loom large…maybe 200+ft high. Hiking across a flood plain made for a unique experience as the evidence of rapidly flowing water (however infrequent) was apparent everywhere. Oh what a sight that must be to see (and NOT be standing where I was).
Making my arrival to my destination after approximately 1-1.5mi of hiking it was time to start finding lines. Often times I am first overwhelmed by the opportunities of locations like this…where to start!?! While taking in the fading sun and shapes that play along the dunes I knew my end goal for the night would be some star work. The sky was fairly clear and the moon was a crescent…so bright enough for some light but not too bright to overwhelm the stars. As twilight arrived I knew I needed a strong composition to compliment this scene. After playing around I settled on this edge of the dune leading up to the big peak. Then to wait. As the sun sets in the desert the temperature drops fairly quickly, that combined with the windy conditions had me in for a good introductory to Death Valley in winter. Just at the boarder of twilight and night it was time to make the exposure. Capturing the end of the magenta glow as the stars made their appearance. The clouds that happened to appear and hang around were some of the FEW that I saw my entire 4 days in Death Valley as was very lucky to have them exist where they did. After I made this exposure I waited a bit longer and did some star-trail work…but that’s for another day 😉
For more information on this and any other Death Valley images please contact us through the website or any aFeinberg Gallery!