Badwater, Death Valley


On the one hand leaving home a day early to avoid the bad weather on the east coast was incredibly exhausting as we crisscrossed the country over a two day period going from Bangor to New York to Indianapolis to Charlotte to Las Vegas… but on the other hand we earned ourselves a bonus afternoon and evening in Death Valley.

As we neared our destination, it quickly became obvious that the park had not yet recovered from the winter storms that ravaged the area a few weeks back. There was standing water in many places along the roadside, with mud and debris often strewn across the blacktop. When we reached the valley floor, we were greeted with some warm sunshine and high clouds which was a nice change from the weather we would have been experiencing back in Maine. We were happy to be here enjoying the relatively warm temperatures, and we both marveled at the vastness of the landscape before us. After scouting a less-traveled trail just to the right of Zabriskie Point for another morning, our first task was to choose a location for our bonus evening of shooting. We both agreed that seeing the unique and surreal salt flats at Badwater would be a great way to start our adventure.

At 282 feet below sea level, these salt flats are an amazing sight. Blistering temperatures throughout much of the year usually mean that this landscape is parched of all water, leaving behind incredibly interesting polygon shaped ridges of salt scattered over a very wide area. As we ventured out onto the flats this evening though, we realized we were seeing this place in an even more unique state, with pools of water covering much of the valley floor.

Sam and I both set out to explore the area, looking for pleasing compositions that might capture the grandeur of where we were. It was VERY cool to see him working with a tripod for the first time, and he totally embraced the process of trying to represent the beauty that we were seeing with his camera. It was funny though to see him pack up his camera right after the sun went down only to be completely surprised and delighted by the spectacular light that arrived about 10 minutes later. He hurriedly set everything back up again and was able to take advantage of the late magical light show we were blessed with, learning a very valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of good light. All evening he worked the scene like a pro, and I was a very proud father seeing him get so excited about something I too love to do. He truly does have a wonderful sense of how to compose an image, and I will share some of his photographs here in the next few days. I am hoping that he will write about his experiences too.

As the sun set to the west behind Telescope Peak (11,049 feet), the skies above us absolutely lit up with an amazing array of colors. We saw a range of warm winter light, cooler blues and pinks as the skies overhead were reflected on the ground, and as the last light faded we were treated to a final blaze of color leaving behind silhouetted shapes of the rugged and dramatic mountains that surrounded us. The salt flats creaked and hissed as if they were alive, making for an eerie after dark experience as we navigated back to the car. This was an awesome start to our vacation together, and I am eager to see the rest of our adventure together unfold. The alarm clock is set for 5:15am, and our intention is to return to the salt flats again, this time to witness the morning light illuminating the snow capped and majestic Panamint Mountains. Here are a few from this evening…

3 thoughts on “Badwater, Death Valley

    • David Patterson

      They are anywhere from a couple of inches to places where the salt pan has been lifted up to maybe 8 inches or more. Spectacular and totally surreal landscape!

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