Back into the Valley of Death


*Update: I have been overwhelmed with the kind words from everyone about this post. Being freshly pressed has certainly brought a new audience to my blog, and I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone for stopping by. If interested, here’s a more complete gallery of some of my favorite images from Death Valley.

Death Valley is one of the most spectacular places on the planet. It is a vast and diverse landscape, one that ranges in altitude from the heights of Telescope Peak (11,043 ft) in the Panamint Range, to the desolate and unique salt water flats at Badwater (282 feet below sea level). If you ever want to see a landscape that is like nothing you have ever seen, then DVNP is the place to go. This is the last in my mini-series of reflective posts from when my buddy Steve and I visited the american southwest a few years ago – Steve has a cool video and narrative of our trip posted on his blog, The Rabid Outdoorsman. Ignore his descriptions of my driving and the near-death experiences… all are highly exaggerated. We covered a crazy amount of ground on our trip, spending several days in Death Valley before driving north to escape the heat toward Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Deadhorse State Park.

One of the things I like most about blogging is how chronologically recorded stories allow for a retrospective glimpse at a timeline. When examining site stats, I often find myself checking out an older blog post that someone has searched for and visited, and from there I start to wander along the timeline, reminiscing as I begin a mini-journey of moments from the past. Building this little four part series from the southwest transported me back to 2009 when Steve and I had a blast exploring what was some seriously big country.

We wrapped up our conference where the stifling sidewalk heat of the Vegas strip hadn’t even come close to preparing us for the fieriness of Death Valley. Only fools, crazy europeans, and two idiots from Maine would venture out into the vast expanses of Death Valley in the summer where the temperatures were 120+ degrees, but we figured what the hey… we might never get a chance to do this again. Risking heatstroke, we wrapped water-drenched towels around our heads and plowed on as we explored some of the amazing and surreal sights of the valley. The photographs in this post are from several of the more iconic locations in Death Valley… the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, the Badwater Salt Flats, the Racetrack, Zabriskie Point, and then back to the dunes… truly awe-inspiring.

Thanks for indulging me with my past four posts and mini-review of this memorable trip to the southwest from a few years back. Now, back to the present day… regardless of the weather, I am determined to get out with the camera again this weekend, so your regular programming from a cold and wintry Maine should resume soon 🙂

412 thoughts on “Back into the Valley of Death

  1. hshawjr

    This time of year I really enjoy seeing other places than the landscape of Maine in the Winter by February I am ready to see someplace warm :-). Thank you for reminding me that it isn’t cold all the time 🙂

  2. All of these are beautiful. The desert is remarkably underrated for its “macrotextures”. You’ve done a nice job capturing that here. Though an amateur, I had a similar experience without risking nearly as much in the sand dunes in the Outer Banks.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks, and I totally agree with your comment about the textures of the desert. DVNP truly is a spectacular place… big and small.

  3. Wow! Just amazing. I’ve always wanted to go and see it. I’ve always imagined the still silence, the wind, the dry ground – probably a great place to meditate! Thanks for sharing these fantastic photos! Great blog!!

    • David Patterson

      Kristin… thanks. DVNP is a unique and huge park, and trust me, as you travel around its vast landscape there is plenty of time to meditate!

  4. I have not spent much time in deserts in my lifetime, but the other day I was listening to a Portuguese fado (song) about the desert, “Deserto” which brought the desert to life. But probably not as vibrantly as your photographs! I guess if you can capture the desert to that degree it’s worth the risk of heatstroke (?) Breathtaking photographs.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks. Most of these are just the icons that are easy to get to… can you imagine the sights you see when you get off the beaten path?

  5. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I loved your photos and your post. I adore desert landscapes, although the one in which I live is totally different to this one. There is something so compelling about them, defiant and strong and simple. I haven’t yet scrolled back through your blog to see Maine, but both of these are places I dream about. Thanks so much for the vicarious travel!

    • David Patterson

      Thank You! I agree that the desert can be a unique and inspiring place. Though I am lucky to live near Acadia National Park here in Maine, I am also drawn to the desert southwest of the US, and love to bring my camera long for the ride.

    • David Patterson

      Wow… I can only imagine what it must be like to live in Death Valley all year round. I have been fortunate enough to visit there several times, and I admit to having a special affinity for the place.

  6. Wow, beautiful photos. Death Valley has been on my ‘must see’ list since moving to the States 11 months ago, and these pics just confirm it. You have a great eye, and capture the essence and beauty of each place you photograph. I particularly like the image with the rock, and the drag marks. I enjoy the narratives it suggests.

  7. Awesome photos. I’ve never been anywhere near Death Valley, and probably never will, but your images bring home to me how many places on this planet are still incredibly beautiful and how small we humans are by comparison.

  8. Stunning photos, David! I’ve never been to Death Valley (the name slightly frightens me…), but, after seeing your pictures, I’m convinced it’s a place I need to visit! 😉

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • David Patterson

      Carol… looks like a little snow on Saturday, but Sunday might be nice (but cold). I have been feeling the effects of cabin fever lately, so am determined to get out again with the camera this weekend!

      Other than the Racetrack photo which was made in the mid-afternoon, the rest of the pics in this post were made around either sunrise or sunset… the light is usually more interesting at those times.

      • I will be cheering you on Sunday when it is 15 degrees and blowing that snow around at 30 mph!! Agree, the light is always better during the “magic hours” around sunrise and sunset! I was out on the Ocean Trail today and along “Great Head” area – just beautiful. Even had a picnic lunch tucked down behind a big rock and out of the wind!

  9. Hey death valley is an incredible place and so it isn’t hard to take a beautiful picture when you are there. I have seen this landscape life and I must say you captured it in a great way. Loving the second photo the most!

  10. Thanks for posting these, they are great. Looking at them makes me really want to get up and go somewhere for a few days. I really need an escape. This seems like a perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

    • David Patterson

      Jeff… I hear you on the need for an escape, especially from here in Maine in the dead of winter! When I need to “get away” but can’t physically make it happen, I usually go back and enjoy previous expeditions via my photographs. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. aaaah this is weird… I am in the middle of writing several posts about a trip I took to the west a few years back and one of the places I cover is Death Valley (along with Red Rock Canyon)! The other places I will be covering are Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Coral Sand Dune State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Would love to go back to Death Valley. Great pictures!

  12. Really wonder work, David. I have to get out to Death Valley one of these years. FWIW, my understanding is, that while it may be insane to be there in the summer, you pretty much have the place to yourself. Of course point A may imply point B… 🙂

    Again, marvelous imagery.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks Kerry. You might be surprised by the number of mad dogs and englishmen who go out in the midday and summer sun in Death Valley.

  13. Sarah D.

    One of the best things about WP is that I get to see blogs like this that I probably wouldn’t find on my own. Beautiful photos. Makes me want to go out west and see it myself. (I’m another New Englander, although here in western MA we haven’t had a true winter yet and I wonder if we will.)

    • David Patterson

      Sarah… isn’t WordPress cool that way! No snow so far in the Berkshires then? There’s still time for winter to get here, but it sure has taken its time to get here this year.

  14. That’s some superb place and great photos! I love deserts – just about my favourite landscape. I don’t mind the heat either, so long as it’s dry heat – can’t stand humid heat! But then I’m one of those ‘mad Europeans’ from a very cold and damp country…

    • David Patterson

      Thanks Carol. It was so hot I literally couldn’t stand up from behind the camera without getting a headache. Being from one of those cold and damp countries myself, I persevered and enjoyed the strange experience.

  15. My hiking and tent camping buddy of 43 years and I will begin such an excursion to the Southwest in 9 days. The itinerary has been meticulously drafted, and the piles of camping equipment have begun to accumulate. Nice post and certainly some beautiful photographs of an awesome place.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks. It’s funny you should mention that… as soon as things green up this spring I plan on heading up that way. I have started doing some research about where to go, but if you have any good suggestions I’d be all ears!

      • Kouchibouguac National Park is very cool. Most people head to Bay of Fundy (which is also incredibly beautiful) then turn around. Kouchibouguac is more local and offers a lot of neat things to do. PEI is also one of our favorite places. I think I have a post on Kouchibouguac and maybe PEI on my blog. Not nearly as good a photographer as you though…

        • David Patterson

          Thanks SO much for the suggestions. I will definitely check out your blog… I’m excited about getting to see that part of the world.

  16. Oh, congrats David, you appear to have been freshly pressed! Well deserved for your amazing photography.
    I have spent time in Nevada (Red Rocks climbing trip) and now regret not making the trip to the Valley of Death – absolutely stunning images you have presented.

            • David Patterson

              From the NPS web site: “Death Valley’s great range of elevations and habitats support a variety of wildlife species, including 51 species of native mammals, 307 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, three species of amphibians, and five species and one subspecies of native fishes. Small mammals are more numerous than large mammals, such as desert bighorn, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, and mule deer.”

              Having said that, I haven’t seen any of these other than a few old wild horses and a jackrabbit with the biggest ears I have ever seen.

              • Wow, i don’t blame them for remaining illusive. With that kind of heat i don’t know how anything could survive out there but i have always been a fan of that desert big horn though. You couldn’t catch the jack rabbit though? I would have tried if it had the biggest ears I’ve ever seen -,o

  17. Wow! Looks like it was quite an adventure!

    Once I get back from the remote Pacific islands this coming summer, I’m hoping to have some pictures to share, as well! Be sure to check my blog in the future!

    Thanks for sharing this! Landscape photography is one of my favorites.

  18. Hi David. this post . i like it so much. when i saw these photos, i was think that in real I am present there. there is too much reality in the pictures. really these are so deep.

    • David Patterson

      Michele… there is more than one field of dunes in DVNP. These were the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. I have never seen Qatar… it must be a unique landscape.

      • It all sounds intriguing, David! I drove through a portion of Death Valley as a child with my family, but have never had the opportunity to explore to the extent you have! Yes, Qatar has some wonderful dunes, an inland sea, and a long coastline adjacent to the Arabian Gulf. Keep enjoying your adventures!

  19. Death Valley is, along with perhaps Yosemite national Park, one of the places that should really get more attention, especially outside the US, as a traveler’s destination. So many of the people visiting the US just go to New York or Vegas, or (don’t get me started) Orlando.

    Death Valley clearly has a lot to offer, as your pretty photos show.

    • David Patterson

      I totally agree. Death Valley is such a huge place though, I think it could handle an increase in tourist traffic better than Yosemite. I have seen Yosemite Valley in the summer, and it get’s pretty busy!

  20. Mmm…that last photo is especially gorgeous. I’ve always wanted to go to Death Valley – ever since I was a kid memorizing random facts about the US 🙂 What an enticing landscape. I went on a roadtrip through the southwest too, but my companions were a bit less interested in that region after having started out along the Oregon coast and majestic northern California. Those places are DEFINITELY great, but I wish that we’d had weeks and months to explore the nooks and crannies of the Valley and Arches and everywhere else. But, I’m lucky I have you to bring it to me and my kitchen! Thanks for sharing, and congrats on the pressing!

  21. I got to your spectacular pictures of Death Valley from Freshly Pressed and it reminds me that I am one of the few people that think of Death Valley as cold and wet rather than hot and dry.

    My late wife and I went to Death Valley as part of a vacation in December 1992. That year must have been one of those El Nino years, weather-wise. On December 12th, Death Valley got its entire annual allotment of rain – 2 inches. The rain flooded the roads, took out the power and the telephones. We were staying at the Furnace Creek Inn and were served dinner that evening by candlelight. The inn had propane tanks to fire the stoves. It was rather romantic, which, as a curmudgeon, I should not admit.

    The next morning, looking across to the Panamint Mountains, there was a straight white line as if drawn on the mountains at the snow line. When the waters subsided from the roads and we were able to go out, all the vegetation started to bloom along the riverbeds and in the hills. It was quite picturesque and unusual to see such plant life in the Valley of Death. But it never got above fifty five degrees!

    • David Patterson

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. On this particular trip I got to “enjoy” the infamous Death Valley heat, but I also learned that summer isn’t the smartest time to visit the park. I have since been back, and I decided to go this time in March… much more tolerable weather, and on this second visit I too was treated to un-real conditions. The winter rains had flooded many parts of the valley, and spring flowers were popping up everywhere. Wild place indeed!

  22. R

    I think of Death Valley as brutal (anything over 70 F starts to get uncomfortable for me), but you’ve shown it to be of gorgeous color and sensual line. Lovely shots.

    • David Patterson

      Thank or the comment and I’m glad you liked the photographs. Throughout the winter months the temperatures can actually get down below freezing, especially at night. There is also considerable a range in altitude throughout the park, so at that time of year I would be surprised not to see snow on the higher peaks.

    • David Patterson

      Death Valley isn’t as compact as Arches or Deadhorse State Park… in fact, I believe that it might be the largest of the national parks in the contiguous US. Huge place.

  23. that is great post!! I have not be opportune to visit places like this but with your well written and composed post, it seems I was there with you. thank you and happy valentine celebration.

    • David Patterson

      Luke… thanks. There are a couple of areas of dunes in and around Death Valley… definitely a photographer’s paradise!

        • David Patterson

          Thanks again Alan. As I look out the window, the snow is just started to stick as I write this. The plan had been to head down to Acadia in the early morning to see if I could take advantage of the clearing storm, but methinks the forecasted 12F (-11C) dawn temperatures are making me have second thoughts!

  24. Such great scenes are there-BUT, in the late 1950s I aerial seeded so many 100s of millions of flowers for the US Department of the Interior that Ronald Reagan said to me that I had ruined the valley for his television series “Death Valley Days”. Did not help that there were high-speed car events being run in the middle of the salt flats.

    • David Patterson

      Anita… thanks. The dunes are an amazing place, especially for anyone interested in photography. Lots of shapes and textures to discover.

  25. kevin meyers photography

    Nice shots. I just spent a week in DV in January. Definitely a unique place. I consider myself a decent photographer but your shots definitely outdid mine. I especially love the last shot in this post (the dunes).

  26. I love your pictures. I drove through DV a few years ago and was instantly in love with it. It was 120 degrees and we enjoyed every second. the dunes & artists palette may just be the two most beautiful places i have ever see, and I’ve been to Yellowstone.

  27. Good Afternoon: I spent a weekend in Death Valley during March 2000 in the middle of a cold snap; the highs were “only” 97 degrees on each day. But the desert flowers were in bloom and that place was shockingly beautiful. Good job with the photographs.

  28. Hello David! What a lot of well deserved comments! Here is another one from tiny Denmark:
    What a magnificent natural area – and so fantastic photos! The last photo is absolutely amazing – simply a super award winner!

  29. Amazing photos thanks for sharing! It makes me want to drag my family out there and check it out, but I think we will skip the whole summer time visit and go more in the fall or late spring…

  30. David, it is really hard to find adequate words to describe the beauty of these scenes you have captured. I love the composition; somehow it seems like these pictures would be more stunning than seeing the landscape in real life. My husband and I are traveling to the Grand Canyon area next month and this whets my appetite! But most important, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! How exciting and well deserved. I am so glad that so many other people could see your amazing photography talents. (I receive my posts in a weekly digest, so I missed all the activity last week, but looks like you were quite busy with all these comments!!!)

    • David Patterson

      Thanks Robin… these past few days have certainly been busy on the blog. So many people took the time to leave a comment, and I wanted to thank them for doing that. I am jealous of your upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon area… that’s somewhere I have yet to see – have yourself a great trip! I always appreciate your kind words 🙂

  31. Andrew

    I could go for a little Death Valley Heat right now…at least it’s dry heat! Beautiful place though…maybe I’ll visit some day 😀

    • David Patterson

      I hear you Andrew… any kind of heat would be welcome right now with the temperature outside here in Maine sitting at a balmy -11C!

  32. Breathtaking! It’s my first time to see this kind of landscape. Thank you for the pictures. I always had the idea in my mind of death valley in black and white and sepia with dark drama mood. How fascinating to find a different perspective from your takes. 😉

  33. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos! I’ve never been to Death Valley but I am now intrigued and hope to see if for myself. I got the chance to visit Arches National Park last weekend and Monument Valley though – gorgeous!

    • David Patterson

      Here’s hoping you get to see Death Valley. I loved Arches but I have not seen Monument Valley yet… definitely on my list of places to see though.

  34. Nice work. Glad you didn’t get heat stroke. Your last photo here reminds me of when I lived in Palm Springs. The thing I liked the best about it was looking out across the horizon in the afternoon and watching the play of shadows across the hills. It was a never repeating kaleidoscope of gold and purple motion. I’m thinking this one was taken in the morning (?) because it’s gold and blue.
    Or maybe Palm Springs nearer distances are the reason for the purple instead of blue.
    congrats on being FP’d 🙂

  35. blackshepherd

    Nice try buddy but I know Mars when I see her….oops! Sorry….I mean “I didn’t see nuthin’ and I didn’t talk to no one…human…as far as I know…” but really….how can you have a “Death Valley” pictorial without dead things being prominent…you know…the cattle skulls…prehistoric monster bones etc….I’m disappointed but willing to give you a chance to reveal your true identity in the interest of National Security…after all….a lot of money was secretly spent getting men to Mars who wouldn’t tattle…once the Marians learned that those hypothetical visitors played chess and actually had a board with them the Martians werer keen to learn everything about making rain….which they expect soon due to our mutual planetary enrichment program….surprisingly…they are so good at chess that enen Deep Blue threathened suicide is asked to play with them again…who knew computers had feelings?

  36. Wow. Your blog has spanned the places of my life (except Ireland); from Maine to the West, and around. Like a Nomadic Mainiac. I miss Maine of long ago, more than I thought, because your photos (especially Acadia NP) made my heart sore. They impart a sense of place. And you captured the magnificence of the canyonlands, the places that stole me away from Maine so many decades ago.
    Wonderful. Thank you.

  37. Great Photos; especially of the dunes! I was in Death Valley a couple of years back too… and it was indeed a unique experience. But, we decided to take an unusual route back, and visited a truly remarkable town on the way: I had blogged about it then; you might want to read when you have the time :-). Strangely, my post almost two years back had the same title as yours, and that’s how your post seemed familiar 🙂 :

    • David Patterson

      Great post on your blog… thanks for sharing. I’ve been to Trona too… an interesting place for sure. Death Valley and the surrounding area has the effect of drawing people back.

  38. Fantastic scenery. I’ve always wanted to visit the United States and see among other things Death Valley. Great post. Loved the photos. The lines in the sand dunes really draw the eye…..well done…
    Superb job…

    • David Patterson

      It is the same place…. known as The Racetrack. Relatively hard to get to, there usually aren’t many people there. It is a strange and eerie place.

  39. Rose

    Stunning! Been to Vegas a number of times and never thought to venture out there, maybe next time I’ll convince someone to make the trek with me (even if it’s not long).

    Your photos look like they’re scenes right out of a movie! 🙂

  40. Hi, nice pictures. You should have passed time for making those. I have passed through the Death Valley during a round trip and I should say it is one of the most fabulous place… with silence and chipmunks!

  41. I just stumbled across your post on Death Valley, quite by accident! This is one of our all time favorite destinations. My husband and I have eaten at least 20 Thanksgivings dinners at the Texas Springs campground. People always ask us why on earth we drive there year after year. If anyone is on the fence about heading out there, your beautiful pictures and narrative should sway them. We have explored, relaxed, hiked, and driven and still not seen it all. We have taken people with us and gone alone. Most everyone loves it. I could go on and on but will refrain. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am not the photographer that you are but I do have a few pictures posted on my blog from our most recent trip last November. Again, thanks.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks… it is a special place isn’t it? I’ve been there on more than one occasion now, and I keep getting drawn back to what is an extreme, vast, and desolate landscape. There’s something VERY special about this place, and I can see why so many people feel the intrigue and need to visit. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

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