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.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Beautiful compositions Barry. Thanks again for lunch and the studio tour.