Friday, April 15, 2011
I made my one and so-far-only trip to Death Valley at the end of a winter season in 2002. It was late March, shading into April, and I was still acclimated to winter in the Northern Rockies. Shouldn't be too bad, I thought, since the average high in DV this time of year is around the mid-80's. I can do that.
I probably could have, but that isn't what I got. It was already as warm as June when I got there, topping out a few degrees into triple digits. And it turns out there isn't much shade in Death Valley - who knew? I lasted about three days, then decided to spend the rest of my break in Bryce Canyon, at 8000', where the temperatures were a little closer to what I was used to.
I had seen Ansel Adams's photos of sand dunes in Death Valley and from them had ignorantly concluded that the entire park is full of dunes. That's not so, but there is an impressive sandbox-of-your-dreams at Stovepipe Wells. As the interpretive signs explain it, the configuration of the surrounding mountains is such that the normal wind tends to drop in speed, which means it can no longer carry its load of sand and dirt. Thus the dunes pile up in that particular location. I spent most of my time there, because it was the dunes I wanted to shoot.
If you try this, be aware that you want to get up early in the morning. First, you want to be active before the sun gets too high and you can benefit from the long shadows (as this photo does). You can get the shadows in the early evening, too, but that's point number two: it's a lot cooler in the morning. Finally, you're not the only one there and before too many hours have passed, the dunes are thoroughly marked up with footprints. The night breezes will erase the previous day's trampling, but you need to get up pretty early to catch them while they're still clean.