Death Valley with Paul's Photo, January 2017 Print

As I have done several times before, I participated in the Creative Photo Academy Death Valley Photo Adventure this year. Death Valley is filled with wonders of nature that are wonderful photographic venues. After a most enjoyable series of photo shoots, wining and dining with friends and new acquaintances, and excellent camaraderie, I returned home with some nice images.

 Note on the photographs: The photos embedded in this blog came out of my Nikon J5; I then took those photos into Snapseed and adjusted them on my iPhone or, in some cases, did post processing at home. The real photographs from my D800 (or in some cases my infra-red modified D200) are in the slide show at the end of this story.

As usual, all the shooters on the adventure stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Mark Comon, our fearless leader and instructor, led the adventure. Kudos to Mark and to Paul's Photo and the Creative Photo Academy for another great photo adventure.

I went up a day earlier than usual this year so I could participate in the optional extra day on Wednesday--because that day was to take place at the Racetrack and I had never been there. I rode up with Bill Shanney; we left early Tuesday morning and after topping off our gas in Baker, we continued on to Death Valley. We took the back road into Badwater to see how good (or bad) it might be for a shoot with the group. Despite ample rainfall in some areas, Death Valley didn't really get all that much and we decided that Badwater wasn't worth any further photographic time. Still, for anyone who hasn't seen it, Badwater is worth a trip; it's the lowest point in the USA (280' below sea level) and is a vast salt flat.

We had lunch and then drove up to Salt Fingers to see whether it was any better and discovered that it was a beautiful day for photography at Salt Fingers.



After Salt Fingers, Bill and I came back to Furnace Creek, checked into our rooms, and relaxed until dinner.

The Racetrack is a fascinating place, with what was, until recently, motion by rocks (some of which weigh over 700 lbs) that was mysterious and unexplainable. This article explains the Racetrack and the geological project that finally solved most of the mystery.

Note how the article describes the road--it's serious, no kidding 4-wheel road and anyone who tries to drive it with a conventional car is asking for serious breakdown trouble and probable personal danger. We drove three 4-wheel drive vehicles; I was fortunate to snag a ride with my friends David and Betty Dodd who had rented a Jeep from Farabee Jeep Rentals:

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I hasten to point out the I took that photo after our return, hence the dirt and mud from the drive.

Personally, I think driving your own car on this road is a mistake; the chances are good that you'll mess something up and Farabee's Jeeps are set up properly for the drive. For example, the tires are only inflated to 24 psi, which is a logical pressure for such a rocky, washboard, dangerous road. This photo gives you a mere suggestion of how bad it is:

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 So, we left Furnace Creek at 5:30 a.m.; first we drove 70 miles to the Ubehebe Crater and from there turned off on the road to the Racetrack. This 27-mile drive took another two hours. When we finally saw the dry lake bed where the Racetrack is located, it looked like this:

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The rock formation on the right side is quite large; the lake bed is actually about a mile wide. The rocks we were seeking are located at the far left in back and required a walk of about 3/4 mile from where we parked. I took this photo looking from my gear (where we were shooting) back toward our cars, which are barely visible at the top of the playa about 1/4 of the way in from the right:

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We spent about two hours walking around and photographing the rocks, and I enjoyed the heck out of it all. The rocks are so cool:



We came back to the cars and ate the sack lunches we had brought with us, and then embarked on our drive back to Furnace Creek. Six miles out from the Racetrack, we stopped at Teakettle Junction so hang a Creative Photo Academy jug on the sign that is festooned with many other teakettles from many other folks who have made the trek:

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The Racetrack is fascinating and shooting there was a rare privilege. I encourage any serious photographer--who is mindful of the environment--to go, as long as one observes the rules and takes precautions for personal safety. 

 That afternoon, my son-in-law Duane Cassone arrived, and we shared the room the rest of the adventure. We enjoyed dinner in the steakhouse and slept late. After the welcome lunch and orientation at the Furnace Creek Inn, we went to Golden Canyon for the afternoon. I elected not to go into the canyon because the steps are steep enough that my deteriorating balance told me not to. After dinner in the café that night, we went back to the parking lot at Golden Canyon to experiment with shooting the Milky Way (facing north) and some star trails. We went back to do the same thing on Friday night. Shooting star trails is exciting but very low yield photography--but well worth the time. After sitting in my camp chair for two hours on the Friday night shoot, I came away with a series that made one nice image.  

The next morning, we arose early to photograph the Mesquite Dunes at sunrise. It's exhilirating to watch the sun paint the dunes and it was fun to see me and my shadow while on the dunes and around.




 After shooting for a while, we came back to the café for breakfast and relaxed until the afternoon, when Duane led a group of us back to Salt Fingers for another shoot there. (The rest of the group had gone back to the dunes to shoot in the playa.) We didn't have the same nice, puffy clouds that Bill and I had seen on Tuesday, but it was still a good shoot.


 We went back to the Golden Canyon parking lot for star trails after dinner and I was able to put together a nice trails shot of 98 images (the technical equivalent of a one-hour, 38-minute exposure).

Saturday morning, we went to the Zabriskie Point overlook to shoot Manly Beacon and the surrounding mountains at sunrise. I already have a marvelous capture made in better weather (great clouds) so I didn't bother going out to shoot Manly Beacon. I held back and shot the actual Zabriskie Point and kibbutzed with other folks on our adventure.


We came back to the café for breakfast and that afternoon drove out to Rhyolite, NV ghost town. This was nice; I had never been there and it was interesting, but unfortunately the fences around some of the buildings make it impossible to get decent photographs. I was particularly interested in photographing the Bottle House because of my circles project this year, but it was way too far away (and closed).

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The bank is a cool structure and many of us came away with good shots there.


I put the fisheye lens on my Olloclip for the heck of it while I was at the bank:


We came back to the traditional farewell dinner at the Furnace Creek Inn, and those of us who brought prints to share at the "print party" after dinner did so. We all traded comments on the work presented and on the trip as a whole and relaxed. A marvelous end to a marvelous trip.

Bill and I left at 7:00 a.m. and stopped at Slater's 50/50 in Rancho Cucamonga for lunch. I had never been there, but Bill said I would love it and he was right. What a great burger. We were home by 2:30 and ready to relax.

Another great photo adventure with a great combination of advanced, intermediate and beginning photographers who made up a good photographer family. For those of you who were on the trip, I enjoyed being with you.

My real photos are in the slide show below; just click the icon once and the slide show will appear. There will be Next and Previous buttons in the upper corners for navigation.