I visited Death Valley on a whim, as it were. On the way back from a trip to Haiti and Central America, I had a layover in LA which I turned into a 5-day break. I hired a car and just started driving. Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and eventually Fresno and Santa Barbara all made it onto the loop before returning to LA to hang out with friends for a day before my flight back to Australia.
I have always loved deserts. Most of my favourite photographs involve deserts. Visually, dunes are hugely appealing in late and early light. Spiritually, however, deserts are far more formidable. Vast expanses of empty, barren terrain that speak of terrible secrets and great desolation, but somehow have a draw that calls to the adventurer and gives room for the soul to wander.
I drove through Death Valley coming from the south, in the middle of May, with the windows down and the aircon off. Spending several hours stopping along the way and taking photographs (surprise surprise), I eventually found myself at Furnace Creek just before sunset. I had drunk nearly a gallon of water but could still feel my head throbbing between pulsating veins in my temples, and could not stop sweating. I felt faint. I tried to get a room, but at that late notice everything was booked up. I was marginally heatstruck and unable to cool down, no matter what I drank. I ended up sleeping on a park bench in the nearby campground, frightened that snakes might slip into my sleeping bag, and my body didn’t really cool down until some time in the early hours of the morning.
This image from Furnace Creek I snapped in the late afternoon. It typifies the vibrantly coloured rock formations that feature along the eastern rim of the valley, but also captures something of the heat, desolation and death that the landscape harks to. Having been there, with all the water I needed and a vehicle to speed me through, and still taking a physical side-swipe from the natural ferocity of the place, was humbling. This image will always remind me of the giddy, nauseous sensation that I felt throughout that evening, courtesy of not taking the desert seriously enough as I passed through.