I had my trip through Death Valley National Park all planned out. The routes were marked up, my timeline was made, and I had brought all my landscape photography gear with me to Las Vegas to get the shots and tell the story I wanted.
But nature had another plan.
Growing up in southern California, we would make a trip pretty routinely over through the desert of Death valley to visit my Uncle who lived just on the other side. It was usually summer time, so the temperatures outside were in the 110’s and the sand was scorching. Most of the time, we would end up driving through the park at night. Maybe it was the stars, or maybe it was just to keep the car from overheating. Either way, its a memory that has stuck with me.
We had an 80′ S10 blazer, so the back seats would be folded down. My mom and I would be in the back, and my brother and Dad were up front. The entire outside of the car was wrapped in the darkness that only a dark sky rated area can give. Thousands and thousands of stars were hanging above our heads as we zoomed thrugh the roads with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was blaring on the radio.
I wanted to relive that memory with my husband, but without the super hot temperatures.
Flying down earlier in the week, I was there for WPPI. A great conference where thousands of wedding and portrait photographers gather for networking, classes, and a huge trade show.
Having gone to Las Vegas many ti,es (21st birthday, honeymoon, weddings, etc.), we had seen most of the strip. Also, I am not really a city person, the big buildings and flashy lights do nothing for me.
Last year I took myself out to Valley of Fire, so this year, I wanted to go and see if I couldn’t capture some of my childhood memories with my camera.
Having only one portion of a day, I marked off the main sights I wanted to see and the routes we would take. We rented a little car, hit the store for some classic road trip snacks, and drove about two hours through the desert until we reach the valley.
So much different during the day! I could actually see the rock formations and the brilliant colors throughout the park.
The first stop was Zabriskie Point. An overlook surrounded by rolling, colorful hills. My husband ad I were pointing out the lines in the hills where the earth was pushed up in some points (the vertical lines on the hills), compared to the horizontal.
From there, we hit up the main park office in Furnace Creek to grab our pass, map, and the patch that I get at all parks to put on my pack. The nice thing with visiting in winter/spring, it that the hottest it got that day was 78. Inside the visitors center they had their record temperatures listed. 134 degrees on July 10, 1913 was the record! Definitely do not want to be there when it gets anywhere near that.
With the temperatures being so welcoming, I g
ot to walk on salt flats for the first time in my life.
Badwater Basin was a place I remember stopping at some point when I was a kid. The small ponds near the roadway stand out amongst the expanse that is this dessert. We never left the car to see it when I was little. But today, it demanded it. With overcast skies, we walked down the path to the large expanse of nothing. The basin used to be a lake, but due to the hot weather and San Andreas fault nearby, the water has dried up and created a large bed of salt. It still sees some rain throughout the year, but not enough to balance out the evaporation rate.
The next part of the drive was somewhere I had never been in the park, Mesquite Flat Dunes.
Rolling dunes of sand whereas most of the sections of the park are flat. It was almost sunset time, and the dunes were still a bit from the parking lot. So instead of trying to make ourselves guess if we could make it there or back, we hung close to the trailhead and awed in how massive the dunes were.
I also played with a little bit of the sun placement in the forest of dead trees.
We backtracked on the road a little bit and headed north up through Mud Canyon. There was not too much of a difference leaving this way. But if you are looking for a shot of the dessert and road, this is a great place to obtain it.
This part of the trip is also the part where I became disappointed with all of my plans I had laid out months in advance. See those clouds in the sky? They multiplied the closer it got to sunset, which means the ONE shot I had dreamed up, was not going to come to fruition on this trip.
I had dreamed of that road shot with the blanket of stars above it. I had scoped the best places (being an online sleuth) for the darkest skies and brought my heavy tripod and gear with me through the airport.
Those plans? All gone.
But who am I to ruin a good time? Instead, we kicked into exploring mode. My husband had never been here, and I knew of a ghost town just outside the park that I had never been to. So, onward through the sunset, we rode.
A little bonus to the trip, we got to see some wild ass.
My Uncle was a truck driver through this area of the United States. So sometimes, we got to ride with him in his truck. I vividly remember a night when we were driving with him, and he was warning us of the wild asses running around at night. My brother and I, being younger, thought it was just an excuse to curse until we saw the herds of wild Burros that live in the area. We were lucky enough on this trip to catch some of them scouring around for food on our way out.
The sunlight was almost gone when we turned off the highway to a little road that brought you until a little town surrounded by mountains.
This was Rhyolite. One of the many towns that sprung up in the area during the gold rush.
The Bureau of Land Management now runs it during the day. It was eerily quiet when we pulled up. Starting at the top of the town, we saw the old train station and a caboose that use to function as a gas station.
Heading back down the hill were the old school and bank building.
There wasn’t much left of that town — lots of tumbled buildings and foundations. Down near the entrance was the creepiest part for me. There is a free museum (closed when we got there) that is surrounded by an art installation made of ghosts. Being there around sunset just made it a little unsettling — the middle of the desert, no one around, and spirits dancing around us.
After the minor creep out, we headed back to the car and hit the road back to Las Vegas.
There are numerous little towns out there that we could see not far from the highway. After a random scene of an off-ramp with a gated town shortly after it, we started questioning where we were. The next town had a little alien themed gas station which gave us a larger clue. Pop open Google Maps and do some quick research and we were on the south side of Area 51. I love when these adventures bring us more than we thought they would.
Not having much of my gear with me, but having my GoPro, we made a quick little video of the scenery. The song in the background is one that hit the radio as we were driving and I thought it fit nicely.