Death Valley, Plan B and Plan C

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OK… when I check the road conditions at the NPS web site that are updated every other day or so it would appear that the winter storms that reached into Death Valley in recent weeks have had a more serious impact on the landscape than I initially thought. Many of the backcountry roads are still closed due to either snow and ice, or debris and mud from flood damage – bummer.

What if the situation isn’t more stabilized by the time we are scheduled to arrive? A big part of why we chose to visit Death Valley was to experience the power and vastness of the largest national park in the US… that and the possibility of some weather that is warmer than we are getting these days in Maine!

If we are restricted to major roads and cannot get to some of the more remote locations we had planned on visiting we will be disappointed, but I realize that we will still be able to see amazing sights, and am sure that we would thoroughly enjoy visiting many of the iconic and more frequented locations in the park that would be available to us.

The image above is from one of those icons – Zabriskie Point. The early morning light had climbed over my left shoulder to warm the distant Panamint Range. After I made this image, the light quickly stretched across the valley floor, chasing the shadows toward me and lighting up the weathered and crumpled folds in the foreground. I intentionally composed this photograph with the dominant expanse of sky to try to accentuate the scale and immense size of this place. Though it looks like I might be in a place devoid of other humans, there were about 50 other people enjoying this beautiful scene with me… some of them photographers, and many of them conveniently deposited here from a luxury tour bus. Despite the crowds… a spectacular place that everyone should witness at some point in their life.

We will be keeping a close eye on the conditions and hoping that no more moisture makes it to Death Valley in the next week or so, and as we get closer to our departure date we will be considering three possible scenarios.

Plan A is to stick to the plan hoping that everything gets back to normal in time for our arrival.

Plan B is to forge ahead even if some of the more remote places are still inaccessible. If we can’t get to places like The Racetrack, or some of the higher elevations, we can still experience the park in most of its glory through the more often visited iconic locations. Who knows, the rains might even offer a fresh perspective on the desert. We might also make a side trip over to 395 and the Owens Valley to see some of the sights there.

Plan C is if things don’t look so good in Death Valley to make a right turn out of Vegas and instead of going toward California, head over toward northern Arizona and southeastern Utah where will be able to find some different, but nonetheless spectacular scenery and landscapes.

Stay tuned…

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Wrapping up from Death Valley

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Thanks to everyone who followed me on this trip. I appreciate your support, and have enjoyed interacting and sharing the preparations, experiences and photographs from what was an awesome trip. I had a wonderful time both in person in California, and virtually here in the blogosphere.

I am probably going to self-publish a book from this blog to help remind me of the experiences I had. A print run of one – aren’t Web 2.0 tools amazing! Not entirely sure what online publisher to use, so if anyone has any recommendations, they’d be appreciated.

Thanks again to everyone who viewed and commented on this blog. I had a great time and am looking forward to the next big trip… the 17-day family vacation this summer to California to see the Owens Valley, Yosemite National Park, San Fancisco, and Big Sur… should be a blast, and of course I will be bringing my camera gear.

In the meantime, most of my images can be found over on Flickr. I will be adding to the collection there as I make new ones. Here’s one last image from the trip to California. This is Mobius Arch, or Galen’s Arch – from the Alabama Hills area. This version is composed at a little wider angle than the one I already posted, and it was made earlier that same morning, this time before the sun had risen. Later…

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Big Place!

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Did you know that Death Valley is the largest National Park in the contiguous United States? There are more than 3.3 million acres of wilderness in this park, with a wide range in topography and climate throughout its expanse.

On the Western side of the park you have the still snow-capped Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range which towers at 11,049 feet, and directly below that in the barren salt flats of Badwater you can find yourself at the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere – 282 feet below sea level. There are giant sand dunes and twisting canyons, hidden waterfalls and glorious wildflowers. This is a park that requires some time to see… unless you want to spend a lot of time driving. The scenery is barren but beautiful, arid but amazing.

This image is from Dante’s View, an overlook perched at 5,475 feet atop the Black Mountains. Looking north through the valley you can see the Panamint Range to the left, the Badwater Salt Flats and the Devils Golf Course through the heart of the valley, and the Funeral Mountains bordering California and Nevada to the right.

On this morning in late March, the wind was howling at about 40 mph, and the temperature was noticeably cooler than down in the valley. A magnificent vista of what is a surreal landscape.

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Devils Golf Course

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The Devils Golf Course is another unique and fascinating feature of Death Valley National Park in California. Located just off the road to the Badwater Salt Flats, it is a wide expanse of salt pan that was once an ancient lake. This ancient lake evaporated 2,000 years ago leaving an amazing landscape that even today is ever-changing.

The area consists of a jagged, salt-encrusted surface that is continually being shaped by wind, rain and sun. Salty water rises up through the mud where it evaporates leaving a dry, lumpy, and incredibly inhospitable surface covered with salt crystals.

It was named the Devils Golf Course in 1934 after a National Park Service guidebook described how “only the devil could play golf on it’s surface.”

Devils Golf Course, Death Valley NP

As you can see from this photograph which I made on my last visit, I wasn’t able to be in this location at a time when the light favored photography. I still like this image though because to me it attempts to illustrate the vastness of this area of the park.

On my upcoming visit I am hoping to be able to spend some time exploring this phenomenon at a time when the light is a little more favorable.

There are only about six weeks left now before I leave for my trip, and am pretty excited about the adventure that I know I am going to have. Between then and now I am going to be preparing for the trip by making sure all of my equipment is in proper working order, and if I need any additional gear I will be purchasing it. More to come on the specific equipment that I will be bringing with me to use…