Thursday, August 16, 2012

Death Valley National Park

Some Like It Hot

An advertising consultant might suggest that Death Valley has a branding problem.  That name doesn't sound particularly welcoming.  It doesn't suggest a land of unique and surprising beauty.  And it certainly doesn't sound like much of a vacation destination.

Luckily, labels aren't always accurate.  Scorching summer temperatures notwithstanding, Death Valley National Park is a magnificent and incomparable natural wonder.

Let's explore some of the park's diverse attractions.

Salt Flats near Badwater Basin

Death Valley once contained a lake.  Over time, large mountain ranges were forced upward in the west separating the lake from ocean moisture.  Moisture precipitated onto the towering mountains.  By the time that clouds reached Death Valley, most of their water supply had been exhausted.  The lake eventually dried up, but it left behind an abundance of salts and minerals.

We can still see these salt deposits today.  Surrounded by mountains these 'salt flats' can be visually stunning under the right conditions.

This photo was taken just after dawn as sunlight began to hit the Panamint Mountains to the west.

a photograph of the Badwater Basin Salt Flats at Sunrise in Death Valley
Salt Flats at Sunrise near Badwater Basin, Death Valley

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is the park's most popular place to watch the sunrise.  The dawning sunlight moves over a complex configuration of badlands and projects an inspiring array of colors and shadows.  Here, a feature known as Manley's Beacon is bathed in the fresh glow of a new day.

a photo of manley's beacon from zabriskie point at sunrise in death valley
Daylight Strikes Manley's Beacon, Zabriskie Point

Natural Diversity

Death Valley is a diverse landscape featuring rugged mountains, wind-swept dunes, and sprawling lava flows.

a photograph of lava flows at death valley national park
Lava Flows, Death Valley National Park

a photograph of the Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley
Mesquite Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

Scotty's Castle

A more unlikely pair would be difficult to imagine.  Wealthy, mild-mannered insurance businessman Albert Johnson befriended entertainer, cowboy, and eccentric story-teller Walter Scott, also known as 'Death Valley Scotty'.  Together the two spent decades building a sprawling vacation residence in Grapevine Canyon at the northern end of Death Valley.

Johnson's money financed the project although 'Scotty' convinced anyone who would listen that the mansion had been funded by his own secret gold mine.

a photo of scotty's castle in death valley national park
Scotty's Castle

The Racetrack

Beyond Grapevine Canyon and the volcanic Ubehebe Crater lies the entrance to an old mining road.  The road has a punishing washboard surface and it not suitable for passenger cars.  If you have a good back, a strong constitution, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle with heavy-duty tires, you can follow this road to one of Planet Earth's most peculiar mysteries - the moving rocks of Racetrack Playa.

No one has ever seen the rocks move, and no one is absolutely sure how it happens, but the rocks move along the clay-like surface (with some help from wind and rain) and leave trails to show the path of their movements.  It is a marvelously fascinating phenomenon.

a photograph of sliding rocks on the racetrack playa in death valley at sunrise
Intersecting Paths, Racetrack Playa

For the photo of the sliding rocks above I began a jolting two-and-a-half hour Jeep ride at 3:30 in the morning, wandered around in darkness looking for the composition, set up and executed the shot in freezing 27-degree (F) weather.  My hands were so numb by the time that I'd finished that I couldn't disassemble the tripod.

But it was worth it.  ;-)

I hope that you have enjoyed these images from Death Valley.  I'll be posting others in the near future, so please feel free to visit again soon.

I'll leave you with one last image, and we'll return to Zabriskie Point for a brilliantly colorful sunset.  This is one of my favorite photos of all time.

a photography of zabriskie point in death valley at sunset
Sunset Over Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

        Canon EOS 5D Mark II

        Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II
        Canon 24-105 f/4L IS
        Canon TS-E24 f/3.5L II
        Canon 70-200 f/4L IS

Light happens.  Be ready.  Shoot hard.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved


  1. Otherwordly...such a place! Sometimes the eyes don't seem enough. So grateful to have these transcendent photos to take me there. Someday I will go and I know that I will remember...

    1. I hope that you'll have a chance to experience Death Valley one day. For anyone who appreciates nature in all its majesty, this destination is not to be missed.