Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Spring in Death Valley

I spent about four days in the Death Valley National Park area last week, doing photography in familiar and new places. This has become something of a spring break tradition over the past few years. (Photography from the trip has started appearing at my photography web site and will continue to do so for the next week or so.)

On the final day of this trip I was more or less run out of the park by a huge dust storm. I’ve experienced several of these in the past, but this one pretty much takes the cake. Due to a lucky turn of events in the morning I was able to exit the park faster than I might have otherwise.

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. so that I could head to my planned photography location well before dawn. My plan was to shoot until mid-morning and then swing back through the campground at Stovepipe Wells to strike camp before heading out of the park later in the day. But because I got up quickly I found myself with a few extra minutes, and I changed plans and struck my camp in the dark before heading off for photography. I was very glad about this a few hours later!

Before dawn I arrived at the iconic Zabriskie Point. I hadn’t necessarily planned to shoot there, but I thought there might be some interesting clouds on this morning, and that can make for something very special at Zabriskie. Turned out that the clouds did not materialize, but despite this development and the tremendously windy conditions I managed to spend a productive couple of hours shooting. As I finished up I noticed that a few scattered clouds were developing over the ridges to the west, east, and north – but this was more or less in the forecast.

As I drove back up the Valley toward Stovepipe Wells the clouds began to get a bit thicker… and I noticed a very ominous haze around the summit of Tucki Mountain above Stovepipe Wells, a haze that I recognize as the warning sign of a dust storm. (I’ve experienced two in the past, so I have at least a bit of experience with them.) As I continued on up the Valley it became apparent that there was a huge, thick, dark cloud of nasty looking dust all the way across the Valley before Stovepipe, and just before the road turned left to head west across the Valley I drove into it.

It immediately became twilight dark, strong winds buffeted the car forcing me to slow to 45 mph or so, and the sand was streaming across the roadway. Visibility became quite bad as I passed the Mesquite Dunes area and at Stovepipe Wells it was dark and no one appeared to be outside. I was very glad that I had packed up earlier – it would have been a real mess trying to strike my tent and pack the car in this meteorological awfulness!

The photo below shows the beginnings of the dust storm across the Valley near Tucki Mountain, with one final glimpse of blue sky showing through.

Dust Storm, Death Valley

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April 5, 2009 - Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , ,

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