The largest national park south of Alaska and certainly the hottest in the continental U.S. is Death Valley. This is why we chose to head here at the end of February. I passed through a part of the park in 2016 and the temperature was near the 100 degree mark at 9 a.m. In February, during our week stay here we had spring like conditions to work with until the sun set, then it got pretty cold. Death valley is one remarkable area full of diverse landscapes ranging from salt flats to sand dunes and elevation changes from under sea level to 11,000 foot ridges.
Myself, along with my two buddies, Derek and Jason collected a few necessities once we landed in Vegas then hit the road westward t0 Red Rock Canyon and shut our eyes. We opened our eyes to a more visible landscape shortly before sunrise then hit a trail in search of angles. The abrupt warm colors filled the sky and got a better look at the vivid colors in the rocky sandstone and limestone rock formations surrounding us.
We hit the road in search of opportunities along the way to get off the beaten path. A short time into the drive we found a stark desert floor to relax on and take a break to enjoy the moderate temperatures.
After countless stops to shoot roads that melt into the horizon, wild desert animals and ghost towns we drove to Beatty, Nevada to meet the fourth member of the gang. Rich drove east from Reno, roughly 6 hours to Death valley meeting us at a gas station. A couple of donkeys rolled into the parking lot on us looking for some snacks as we got gas and were chatting.
Now that the gang was all here and the donkeys headed home we had one more quick drive through Beatty junction into the park to set up shop at Furnace creek campground. We had a jeep to rent the next morning more suitable for the washboard terrain of our next destination. Given the roads you drive on to get here, racetrack playa is one of the more desolate areas of the national park. The vibes this place put off at night were unlike anything i have experienced. The playa is only one and a half inches higher in the northern end but in each direction the land seemed to bend into the mountain ranges off in the distance. Everything seemed so close, yet considerably further away with each step. We were not ready for the twenty-five mph winds that rolled in bringing clouds along that diminished our crystal clear nights sky. We were greeted to one amazing moon rise that night, making the wait worth while. We packed up and hiked to the dim light that was our friends in the distance making canned chili, the best meal i have ever had at that time. We stuck around til the sun rose and the landscapes amazing polygon patterned ground lit up, exposing the mysterious sailing stones leaving traces of movement behind.
We said our last farewells to the jeep, took a snooze and planned our morning mesquite sand dune trip over dinner. It was windy enough the night before, providing a clean slate for us. I was way over dressed whenever i started to hike to a good location before the sun rose. By the time i got to the car, hours after the sun was risen i was extremely hot from climbing the soft sand hills spread throughout the dunes. People were ants off in the distant whenever i got to higher elevation. We scattered ways and met up at the van after the sun was in full swing.
Salt creek is a cotton ball textured salt flat that we discussed shooting at night. On the fifth night of the trip, we shot sunset here and then came back for the milky ways brief appearance shortly before sunrise.
Our next leg of the trip, Dantes view was off limits due to road closures, so we scooted over to the artist palette and scoped the ice cream like landscape out. Since our original location was closed off , Zabriskie was next on the list.
It now was time to say goodbye to our campground we called home for almost a week. We ventured deeper into the mojave desert to a place that only existed to me in movies like star trek and planet of the apes before arriving. Trona pinnacles is one eerie place! The dry lake bed consisting of spires ranging in sizes, twisting quad trails that seem together and views for miles. We experienced crazy winds here along with a great night sky. The milky way rose shortly before sunrise at around 4 am. We even got a brief visit from the International Space Station.
After our night moves in Trona, we got a time share courtesy of Jason. It felt good to relax in a hot tub and sleep in a bed rather than a tent or vehicle. We woke up and and it was time to say goodbye to Rich as he set back to Reno. The three of us headed to Valley of fire for sunset after realizing that we missed the desolation of the desert. We got one last taste of the great American southwest before we headed to the airport.
This was one hell of a trip with three of my best pals. We filled cards, made memories and barely slept. Nothing but miles and miles of unknown landscape surrounding us for the past 7 days and i couldn’t think of anyone or anywhere else i would have rather been at the time than exploring the Mojave desert with those dudes!