There’s been a lot of words on my site recently. I mean a lot.
I’ve been nattering about everything from sending T-Shirts to Africa to the impact of New Media on Aid Work, on why it’s better to give cash than stuff, and even the odd anime review. And while posts on the building crisis in Niger or why our water usage is killing the planet both had photos, they also had a ton of verbage wrapped around them.
Hence deciding to post some more pretty pictures.
I went to Death Valley in 2007. I had a layover in LA on the way back from a work trip to Haiti and Central America, and decided to stretch it out. I rented a car, and I drove for 4 days solid, taking in the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake and a bunch of other little detours along the way. It was fun, refreshing and an awesome photoshoot.
I came in from the south, rather than (is more common) from the east and Nevada. This took me through the sweeping southern part of the valley, with the salt-flats that mark the lowest point of the United States, and the rock formations along the eastern rim of the valley. It was late afternoon in May. The air was hot and dry. I had a plastic one-gallon jug of water in the passenger footwell, and I drove with the windows down and the air-con off, and drank the water profusely. By 7pm, when I reached Furnace Creek- one of the centres of habitation in that desolate landscape- I was overheated and dehydrated. One of the worst I’ve ever been, actually. I was quite shocked.
I hadn’t booked ahead, and the motel was full, so I checked myself into the campground down the road. I had no tent and the car was too cramped to sleep in, so, worried about snakes and scorpions, I lay myself out on a picnic bench near my allocated site and waited for my body temperature to drop.
I was hot, dry, and trembling. I had a cracking headache and felt light and dizzy. It was a ghastly feeling. I wet a sock and lay it over my forehead, periodically splashing water on myself through the night.
I woke, uncomfortable and with a headache, but feeling normal once again, some considerable time before dawn. The previous evening I had scouted further north and west, and found an overlook near the town of Stovepipe Wells which gave views of the Mesquite sand dunes. The light had been hazy and poor and I hadn’t been able to get any decent photographs. But I was awake, so I set off. It was about 4.30am.
I reached the dunes and began hiking. The sky was just growing light, so I wandered out among them until I found some vantages I was happy with. Then I waited for the inevitable dawn.
I was largely alone. A couple of miles away on a large dune I could see half a dozen people sitting doing the same as I, but they weren’t intrusive. I never saw them close up, never heard them. They didn’t get in the way of my shots.
As the sun began to come up, I was briefly disappointed. The air was hazy, not crisp as it had been in the Sahara, and this softened the light. I had been hoping to catch sharp contrast in the ripples of the dunes, in the first few minutes of the day.
But my disappointment was short-lived. When the sun came up, I got those low-angle shadows and contrasts within the folds and contours of the windforms. The cloud-streaked sky added far more interest than a blue palette would have done, contrasting nicely with the shapes in the sand and aligning themselves perfectly. And better still, the softer light cast an almost painterly mask over the landscape. All up, that morning shoot was one of my favourite and most productive sessions, and I got more than a dozen photos I was really proud of.
Not that I can really take the blame. I wasn’t the one that created that landscape. Just borrowed a bit of light from it.
All up, Death Valley was a spectacular locale. What it lacks in grandeur (compared to, say, Yosemite) it makes up for in harshness, wilderness, and sheer otherworldlyness. The diverse, rugged landscape is photogenic, exciting and hostile, and I’d love to go back and spend a week exploring its nooks and crannies. It remains a highlight of my trip and is high on my go-back-to list (together with Yosemite, the Annapurnas, Canada… it’s a list surpassed only by my ‘need-to-go-to-next’ list).
Ah… colour… that’s a nice change from all that black-and-white text!