Coyotes and Contrails at Mono Lake

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With access to many desirable locations in Death Valley still restricted because of the impact of the recent wet weather there, Sam and I decided to take a little side trip out of the valley and over to CA 395 and the Eastern Sierra. The sights and sounds from our day were quite something, and here is a brief synopsis.

As we climbed from Stovepipe Wells and then down into the Panamint Valley we were treated to two “Top Gun” fighter jets that circled the valley at an altitude of about 200 feet before screaming over our heads and away. We saw wide expanses of Joshua Trees in the high desert before starting the descent into the Owen’s Valley where we were greeted by the immense and powerful Eastern Sierra and Mount Whitney. We followed the impressive Sierra along 395 and climbed to over 8,000 feet on our way toward Mono Lake near the town of Lee Vining. We saw snow that was feet deep all along the way, but the temperatures were warm and comfortable. And then there was Mono Lake…

Mono Lake is an ancient salt lake covering 70 square miles that lies in the shadow of some of the major Eastern Sierra peaks. It is renowned for several reasons including the migratory bird population that visits each year, the beautiful landscape it offers photographers, and probably most famously, the limestone “tufas” that are scattered along the shoreline.

We arrived at the head of the road that leads to the lake and were immediately in awe of what we saw. We were excited to drive the last mile or so on the unpaved road, only to find that the snow had not been plowed. After a little debate, we both decided that it would be foolish to try to take the rental car down the road, but since we had driven a considerable distance to get here, we were determined not to be denied and decided to park and hike our way in.

Not another person was seen or heard as we wandered around the “south tufa” part of the shoreline in search of compositional possibilities for when the “good” light came later. As the afternoon wore on and the sun started to get lower in the sky, we were both startled by what we quickly realized were coyotes howling somewhere in the immediate area. Admittedly spooked a little, we decided to be “brave” and stick it out in hopes that the skies would cooperate and give us some nice light on this amazing landscape. A little nervous for a while, we stuck together and soon went back to focusing on trying to capture the beauty of this unique lake.

Maybe we have been spoiled by the good light and spectacular clouds from the last couple of days in Death Valley, but although nice, the evening at Mono Lake didn’t really produce as we had hoped. We did get some nice warm light early in the afternoon, and the deep blue/pink palette after the sun went down was certainly nice. Also, we couldn’t help be disappointed by the amount of high altitude commercial airplanes that constantly flew overhead, leaving behind unsightly and non-photogenic contrails that made composing pleasing images challenging. Included in this post are a couple that I made before we scurried back up the hill through the snow in the quickly waning light – scanning right and left for the coyotes all the while – toward the warmth and comfort of the car.

Returning to Reflect

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After our morning shoot at Badwater yesterday, we decided to explore further on past the parking lot and stumbled on an area that offered tremendous reflections of Telescope Peak (11,049 feet) across the valley floor. Rising nearly two miles vertically from 282 feet below sea level, this is indeed an impressive view. Sam was actually the one who wanted to return here to see what might be able to find photographically, and I am glad he convinced me that it was a good idea. On this morning the light was good, but as you can see we didn’t have the benefit of any interesting clouds to enhance the composition. Death Valley is usually considered a wide expansive landscape, but for this image I decided to try to simplify what I was seeing and include only that which was most important. The rare water on the valley floor was smooth as glass, making for a pretty cool reflection.

Wet Sand Dunes and Grey Skies

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Another image from our evening spent on the Mesquite Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. When we first ventured out onto the sand dunes we were disappointed in the weather, the number of footprints visible, and how wet the sand was – little did we know what was in store for us.

There was very little texture in the sand, and the light was mostly both grey and flat. In this image I was drawn to the contrast between the rare dune ripples in the foreground and the ominous and fast moving grey clouds overhead.