I arrive at Zabriskie Point a few miles from our RV "camp" at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It is 6:30 a.m., March 17, 2015. I am here to spend six days photographing in Death Valley. Zabriskie Point is one of the many premier spots in the valley overlooking badlands so color banded that they have the appearance of a woodcut rather than real landscape. The point is also perfectly situated to capture both sunrises and sunsets drawing photographers from all over the world in hopes of capturing a bit of this surreal landscape in the best lighting possible.
This morning the sun will rise just after 7:00 a.m. The 30-minutes or so before is known as "civil twighlight" when the darkness of night begins to dissipate and the new day slowly materializes. It is also known as the "blue hour" because of the blue or "cool" tonality of the lighting. It is lighting coveted by photographers and happens but twice daily, just before sunrise and just after sunset in the evening. But for me it's not just the lighting that makes this time of day so special, it's the feel...quiet, peaceful, almost a spiritual quality; a time to be alone with one's thoughts and with God's Creation. I have been known to leave home at 4:00 a.m. to photograph in this hour; this morning, however, was more "civil". At this time of year the sun rises late and I hadn't far to go even though I left in the dark. I even had time for a cup of coffee before leaving the RV.
But there is a red streak in the sky in the east announcing the advancing day. A partial cloud cover and that ripening red streak gives promise of an impressive sunrise. Already the overlook is well populated with hopeful photographers; that and the red streak prompt me to hustle to claim a spot to set up my tripod.
Death Valley! The name does not conjure up a warm and fuzzy feeling. Most people react with, "why do you want to go there? It's just barren desert. Doesn't the name tell you something?" Well, yes and no. True, it is perhaps the harshest place on Earth in terms of both terrain and climate. It sits in a transition zone between two of the four North American deserts, the Great Basin and the Mojave. Its profile of mountain range and basin makes it resemble the former more closely. Snow covers the surrounding mountains, but very little moisture reaches the valley floor. Badwater at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North Anerica, is only 100 miles from Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, at 14,495 feet the highest point in North Anerica outside of Alaska. A little thought about that will tell you what you need to know about the topography of this part of California. Winter temperatures can be freezing, but the mercury can reach 130 degrees in summer. It is home to Big Horn sheep, sidewinder rattlesnakes, scorpions, and an endangered little fish known as the pupfish, most of which are seldom seen by visitors. But given all this it is also a place of spectacular scenery, color, and as if to give lie to the name, life! I have photographed here on many occasions and never tire of it. In my opinion it is a close second to Yosemite as a photographic venue. So this morning I am "pumped up" and full of anticipation for what this morning and the next few days will bring.
These were some of my thoughts as I set out this particular morning about a month ago. The sunrise came fast and furious. The sky lit up with brilliant reds and yellows and within ten minutes all was over. The light stayed "soft" until about 9:00 a.m. when it became harsh and I finally called a halt. But I had a camera card full of great photos. I photographed early morning on two other occasions and a couple sunsets this trip and while I captured some great photographs the lighting never quite equalled that of this particular morning.
I have added a number of images to my Death Valley portfolio. Check them out; Death Valley is not the barren desert of popular myth.