. . . A remarkably diverse landscape to explore
Driving into Death Valley National Park along California Highway 190, you certainly understand how Death Valley got its name. The brown barren desert landscape is all you can see for miles around. We were headed for “The Ranch at Death Valley”, a self-described casual hotel that would be our home base for the next 6 days. The Ranch turned out to be a convenient centrally located lodge to access the Valley’s most remarkable places to visit. We were excited to finally explore one of the few major National Parks we have never experienced, but we were not at all prepared for the landscape vistas and diversity we were about to encounter.
Our Death Valley experience was even more special because of our very capable photography guide on this adventure. My wife, Nancy, and I decided to join Brenda Tharpe’s Death Valley Photography Workshop. Brenda and her partner Jed, have been to Death Valley numerous times and knew all the great photography opportunities this 3000 square mile park has to offer. Each park location we visited offered another remarkable landscape to behold. . . and photograph.
The best times to see the iconic vistas of Death Valley is when the sun is close to the horizon. And the sunrise scenes at Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in the park. Named in honor of Christian Zabriskie, a man who devoted 36 years of service to the Pacific Coast Borax Company that operated in the late 1880’s, Zabriskie Point offers an elevated view of the “badlands” below. Photographers line up along the ridgeline to capture the grand landscape in the best light.
You will not believe the array of natural colors on display at Artists Palette, the highlight of your drive along the Artists Drive Scenic Loop. The colors are from volcanic deposits of iron oxides and chlorite which creates the colorful hills. The late afternoon light provided a beautiful time of day to view this natural wonder.
Sunrise at Badwater Salt Flats
As we hiked out onto Badwater Salt Flats in the pitch-black dark before sunrise, I could only wonder what we were about see. The 40-minute hike at the lowest point in North America (282 ft. or 86 m below sea level) revealed the most spectacular sunrise landscape I think I have ever seen. As the early morning light illuminated the vast salt flats, we thought for sure we had arrived on a different planet.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Named for the mesquite tree which grows in the area, these dunes provide another unique landscape in Death Valley. No official trails exist at the dunes so it quite easy to fill your shoes with sand as you find the best locations to photograph. The late afternoon light displays dramatic shadows on the dunes and wind ripples in the sand. As you hike the dunes, nature displays its version of ceramic tile in the form of randomly cracked dried mud beds. A memorable sight to see.
Salt Creek Flats
Rarely do you see water in a desert. In November, Salt Creek is filled with large areas of very shallow water providing interesting photographic opportunities in the desert landscape. We visited Salt Creek Flats off the beaten trail by pulling over on the side of the road of highway 190 near the interpretive trail. Another hike in the dark before sunrise though the shallow mud provided yet another photo opportunity few people have ever seen.
Sunrise at Dante’s View
Some people say the best view of Death Valley is Dantes View. At 5,575 ft (1,699 m) above Badwater Basin, on the edge of the Black Mountains, it is certainly a favorite spot for photographers. Dante’s View offers visitors a magnificent view of the white salt flats of Badwater below, and the Panamint Range to the west. Dante’s View is an overlook you will not soon forget.
When people think of Death Valley some may think who would want to visit the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park in the U.S.? In November, we found the cool morning temperatures and warm days a perfect time to visit this land of extreme landscapes. Each vista has a dramatic contrast to the next. Towering peaks, striking mud beds, white salt flats, grand mountain vistas, and shallow creeks provide one of the most interesting National Parks for visitors to explore and photograph. Despite its sinister name, Death Valley’s scenic diversity is a remarkable National Park you will certainly want to discover.
As always, may you keep discovering places to explore and while you are there, may only the most remarkable photos be yours.