Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Journey South to Joshua Tree National Park.

As I drove up the steep slope that marked the exit of Death Valley I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was glad to be leaving the dry intense heat of the desert floor and the constant thirst that my body called for, but on the other hand I was a bit saddened to leave this place of intense beauty, filled with a plethora of wonders that had moved me so deeply. I was glad that I took the time to photograph it's marvelous splendor. Now I was looking forward to the next destination, it would be Joshua Tree National Park.

Once over the hill that led from the valley, even though it was still desert it was noticeably different. There was moisture in the air and the light seemed more chromatic. I guess to most people this might go unnoticed but on this journey of solitude with a meditative quiet mind, my senses seem heightened.

Now that I have left the below sea level depths and peaceful quiet of Death Valley I can not help but notice the intrusion of the modern world. Telephone poles, billboards and cell towers marked the long ribbon of highway breaking the horizontals of the hills with the intrusive verticals of man made things. 

Wind power generators ever spinning as they catch the never ending wind gusts that make the desert what it is, a dust bowl. Nature is being harnessed we are getting the message of our oil dependency, even if it is in small amounts. It is not an easy thing to turn a ship the size of our economy.

Night was now falling and tomorrow I will be entering the Mojave Range and then Joshua Tree. I think I'll sleep in a real bed tonight even if it is a cheap motel it's better then the car. Besides I need a shower.

The next morning I wake with the dawn a habit one forms when sleeping under the stars. Go to sleep when it gets dark, get up with the first light. Early morning is when the light presents photographic opportunities that can only be revealed in the half light of dawn. Here are a couple of shots I got this morning.

So as the sun rose in the sky the land became flat and less interesting. Much of it looked like the outskirts of small towns with one gas station, a restaurant and a small motel. Who lives in these places? I often wonder what makes some of us so reclusive. I don't think I would last long in such a remote place. Driving back roads or super highways in this area is much the same, there is not much to see and the highway is faster. Lunch came and went as the hours of driving pass the road under my wheels, and the day wore on.

It wasn't until late afternoon that the landscape started to change and reveal the promise of once again becoming immersed in nature. The desert was reclaiming the land. There were no more man-made objects aside from the road itself that I could see. The dust bowl was now behind me. The distant hills were gaining in scale and the cactus seemed to be everywhere. I am getting close to Joshua Tree.  As I pulled into my camp site the light was fading. I am excited to be here and to feel the energy of what I know will be another great experience waiting for me in the morning. I will rise with the dawn tomorrow and see what I can see. One last shot... then sleep...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Into the Valley of Death

If you have never been to Death Valley you will not be able to comprehend the scale and extreme qualities that this place exudes. Most often the heat is unbearable for long periods of time (I am thankful for my Subaru's air conditioner). Being there in springtime when temperatures are somewhat less (from 100 to 109) was still an experience I do not want to repeat. Mid-day was spent parked in whatever shade I could find. So most images were taken in morning or evening. In the above image we are looking down into the great basin and can see for 100 miles to the distant peaks. Evenings are a relief from the heat as temperatures drop by as much as 60 degrees and the night sky is not to be believed as the heavens reveal the infinity of space. Try to spend one night in a sleeping bag under the stars and you won't be disappointed as it all seems to reach down through the atmosphere, you can reach out and almost touch a meteor.

Depending on the direction you enter the Valley you will either see the basin or the Sand dunes (entering from the north). From a distance they appear small but look close and you can see the size of people walking toward the peak of the highest dune. Few reach the top as the heat takes it's toll.
I decided that I would forgo the hike and focus on the compositions from below the peaks.

As I walked in the lower sands the compositions unfolded for my camera. The scale of the vegetation, the colors of the distant hills all effortlessly fell into perfectly designed formations, a symphony for my eyes.
Soon after leaving the dunes the valley opened before me. The pastel colors of far off Inyo Mountains and the Panamint Range seemed to be faded by the sun. The Death Valley floor cracked from the ever present heat. I was beginning to understand how this valley got it's name. I could not imagine how the early pioneers survived it's crossing on horseback and wagon, brave and more then slightly crazy souls they must have been.  One is struck by silence of this place, it's as if it was holding it's breath waiting for you to burn up or get out. It looks like no life could exist here. The gates to Hades might seem an appropriate name if it were not for the contradicting beauty beckoning me ever deeper into it's heart. What would I find around the next bend? The stereotype of the cow skull comes to mind, bleached white by the beating sun... I drove on and soon I would be surprised by what I found at my next stop.

"LIFE" in the Death Valley. At Furnace Creek, water amidst the dry parched land came as a real surprise to me. I am so amazed how even in the worst of situations life finds a way. As I walked the path following the creek I discovered that there were small fish living in the water (Stickel Backs). In the Town of Furnace Creek I was told by the Ranger that there was Desert Iguana, Mule Deer, Bobcat, kit fox and Desert Bighorn Sheep in the full range of the park but all I saw were the little fish. I guess one has to be here a long time to take it all in . I was grateful for the fish.

If you want to stay at the hotel in town you will need to make a reservation and the same is true if you are going to tent camp. If you are not prepared (like me) you will be relegated to the RV park. I don't recommend it as there are no showers and you can't use the hotel pool.

One of the most memorable moments in the journey was my stop at the Artist's Palette the colors of this place are not believable even when you are looking right at them. The energy of the colors in the rocks is so exciting. (click any image to see it larger) The drive through the small valley road is a thrill to drive but you must be careful, you will not want to keep your eyes on the road... so much to see, I must have stopped at least 50 times along this drive. All to soon I found myself back on the main road wondering what could top that! Truth is I am spending most of my Sabbatical saying that to myself and wondering how we seem to settle for the city life and small loops of predictable travel our lives take every day when so much awaits discovery just outside our door!

Twenty Mules and the story of Borax is told in the remnants of the exhibit of wagons that still remain in the valley to remind us of the past industry of Death Valley.

In total it took four days for me to reach the southern end of the valley, I am treated to the profits of the earlier rains that came in winter. Fields of yellow and purple flowers blanket the sides of the road and the adjacent hillsides, as if to say thanks for coming and have a safe journey. I have a moment of sadness as I drive up the mountain and leave. One more glance in the rear view mirror and I am off to my next location.