Landscapes Death Valley
Growing up in the Carolina's meant the importance of the outdoors was imprinted in me early. This deep love for nature was the very first motivation for me to pursue photography. Exploring areas around the mountains of North Carolina I would find places of beauty that seemed to be calling to me. At the time I was too young to understand the why and meaning of this. Later in life I would learn those beautiful places that called to me were wanting to be 'captured' and their beauty shared.
There is a great thrill from searching and exploring for that beautiful spot and waiting for or even finding the light. You begin your search months before, researching beauty's favorite spots. Then the hunt continues in person, and not just discovering beauty but showing it through your eyes. The high volume of landscape work today makes this more and more difficult, but the challenge makes the capture of a unique piece of beauty that much more thrilling.
Thirty years ago just being in a remote location with a view camera was enough to make unique and captivating images. Now with the easy access to pro equipment and the attractiveness of capturing one of those images, photographers are pushed like never before to become more artistic and ultimately is a good thing for the medium. Every day millions of images are created, just being there is no longer enough.
This challenge is something I relish and makes the art form of landscape photography one that has uniquely evolved in both creative pressure and competition. Two factors that ultimately can have amazing results.
Thousands of years of flooding and evaporation have given Death Valley its salt flats and brittle soil, here water from the surrounding mountains meanders its way to the lowest point. A rising sun illuminates the peaks of the Telescope mountain range in the distance.
One day while exploring an unnamed canyon, I decided to pop up to the rim to see how things looked from there. Once up top I found a cluster of rocks that had obviously broken apart in place. I focused on this one rock because of the color and how it had a ‘canyon’ in miniature form.
This shows one of the most interesting aspects of Death Valley, the alluvial fans. This perspective shows it from about 6000 ft above looking down to the salt creek zone of northern Death Valley.
A couple of years after a fire ravaged this creek's ecosystem recovery was still a slow process. The tree in the background had immense power and a pull that was palpable, which captivated me for a good while. Despite its death it would contribute significantly in the recovery process of a once vibrant oasis.
This tree held my attention for a significant time, as I sat and roved around these small white flowers surrounding the flowing creek spoke of regeneration. Being relegated to a burnt skeleton the twisting, turning branches have amazing form and beauty.
A glimmer of hope for the return of native life lives in these flowers as well as the green foliage behind. The shallow depth of field isolates these small flowers and shows the damage and rejuvenation.
I really like this image because it shows a beautiful regrowth of natives reclaiming a creek that had been lost to invasive species. This factor was the main reason for the fire taking hold, most species native to Death Valley don’t burn that easily. I used a front focus to emphasize the native plants reclaiming their home.
The power of placement is obvious in this image, the only thing that saved the bush was its distance. The price of being next to the creek proved to be fatal.
An up close and personal view tells the entire story with different characters. Salt crusted rocks and charred remains tell of a desolate place being decimated, yet life still reestablishes itself and proceeds towards thriving yet again.
I wanted a very cool and barren feeling for this shot showing the lower burn area while focusing on the creek that would provide the boost needed. You still see the salt crust and then other places where even the salt burned.
For me Badwater was mesmerizing on the minute level. Tiny pillars, unreal ridges and an alien texture captivated me. How much it mirrored the surrounding land was quite astonishing. The closest ridge is the southern side of Artist Palette.
This feature was only 6 inches tall amid a network of salt ridges like this that spanned for miles. The intricate structures with a looming massive wall had an almost alien feel to them. Absolutely stunning that salt crystals seem to reach for the sky in the same manner that plants do.
Not sure if its coming or going but this rock has slid at some dramatic angles in its past. On the left edge of the image is the Grandstand, a prominent stone pile that lifts out of the playa.
These two travel partners seem to be either racing or enjoy each others company, perhaps a bit of both. I was lucky enough to be granted an exquisite sunset, I did plan on the moon location above the mountain. However the clouds to cradling the moon while illuminated with the last bits of sun light was pure fortune.
The track of this particular rock and its big sweeping curve intrigued me which is why I chose to focus on this aspect. Dark ominous mountains and traces of a sunset give a sense of loneliness but also contentment. In the distance to the right the Grandstand beckons.
Salt is one of the characters of Death Valley that you can find almost everywhere. I focused on this patch of salt to focus on the textures and colors salt, sand, fire and wind can create. The golden clump of grass is stretching down to add its influence as well.
The Kit Fox Hills are probably one of the least visited places in Death Valley. While not the most striking vista its lack of popularity makes undisturbed erosion and decay eye catching. This branch has been here for who knows who long, my guess would be a couple hundred years. Completely undisturbed you can see how wood and soil have almost become one.
The sheer cliff walls of Fall Canyon show evidence of extreme floods clearing everything in their path. I waited until just the right time of day to get the moment when the sun light just barely kissed the canyon walls.
The fall and spring are the two windiest times of the year in Death Valley. This shot of the Devils Cornfield was taken during the latter and makes it look like its namesake. Hellacious winds meant getting sand blasted was a requirement if you wanted to be out. A small price to pay in my book for a beautiful experience.
A venture out during a clearing sand storm did not quite provide the light I was looking for. However I happened upon this bush just dancing in the wind, the contrast between the static trunk and leaves gyrating captivated and held me. The gentle giant in the background is Tucki Mountain.
The mudflats of Mesquite Dunes tell a story of massive floods and conditions that are almost unbelievable for such a dry climate. This morning gusty conditions stir up some dust to catch the light at just the right time and envelope the Dunes with a golden touch. Death Valley Buttes sits just above still cloaked by the Funeral Peak Range.
Not only are the mudflats caught in time but so are some plants. The remains of this plant has been split right down the middle from the immense heat and perennial dryness. A wispy skeleton whose thin fingers greet a rising sun.
Earlier in the day a sand storm had torn through Death Valley, which is the best time to go out and shoot the sand dunes because all of the foot prints are blown into a natural pattern. These ridges hide a crackled mudflat mere inches from being completely swallowed up by shifting sands.
Scouring winds are constantly reshaping the dunes, giving them small ripples on the surface and eventually moving mountains of sand. Funeral Peak is the prominent point in the middle area of this image.
Resembling plates that have been broken and slowly buried this section of mudflat intrigued me with its brilliant pale color and unique cracked/buried appearance. You can see the streams of sand being blown along as it meanders through the Creosote colonies.
A series of squalls sent me out to look for some unique conditions when this rainbow appeared over the badlands. A quick scramble and composition allowed me just enough time to capture the images to create a panoramic.
The west side of Death Valley is a ridge not often visited. This view from Agueberry Point shows the entirety of the salt flats of Death Valley, from Badwater on the right to Salt Creek on the left. Artists Palatte, Dante’s Point, Zabrieske Point and the Funeral Range are in order from right to left.
This image was created just before a line of storms would slice into Death Valley. Looking south from the Death Valley Buttes you get a sense of the enormity and dramatic geology of this valley. From right to left you see the very beginning of Death Valley, Tucki Mountain, Telescope Range and Mountain, Salt Creek, Badwater, Dante’s Point, Badlands, Lost Canyon and the Last Chance Range.
Another tumultuous day in Death Valley and the results are amazing. A dark ominous storm playing with a rainbow and a dirt devil dancing in-between. The Grapevine Range and Titus Canyon lie in the background from left to right.
Months of waiting for the right combination of conditions were required to make this image. A rain storm an hour before darkened the Mesquite Sand Dunes, while the higher elevations in the farthest ridges got some light snow to contrast the dryness of Death Valley.
After a big storm had blown through the night before, I went out in the morning to catch the ridges snow topped before being melted away by the ascending sun. Low clouds on the horizon played a game of peek a boo, defining the ridges and canyons in the distance.
In the spring it seems the wind swings and most dust storms are borne from southern winds. This allows a view of the very birth of this sand storm, fifty to sixty mph winds created a wall of sand a thousand feet high. It went as far as you could see with it seemingly topping ridges. Tucki Mountain sits prominently to the left while the Mesquite Sand Dunes are being torn and reformed by the winds.