Pentax K10D with DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
Ethereal glow along the North Fork of the San Gabriel River
Pentax K10D with DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
Ethereal glow along the North Fork of the San Gabriel River
Pentax K10D with Vivitar 105mm f/2.5
A lone explorer ambles off into unknown worlds
These pictures from Dantes View were taken during a Death Valley camping and backpacking trip in November of 2009. This point was the location used in the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV: A New Hope) for the shot overlooking Mos Eisley- that most “wretched hive of scum and villainy”.
Dantes View is at the top of a mountain rising from the floor of Death Valley National Park. The peak sits at 5,475 feet high, and affords an incredible view since the valley floor lies at just about sea level. You can see for miles in just about every direction from the top of the mountain.
As I stood overlooking Death Valley below, I had the odd sensation that what I was seeing was entirely familiar, yet I couldn’t quite place it in my repertoire of memory. It wasn’t until I returned from the trip and did some research on the history of the area that I found out this was one of the many Death Valley locations used in the original Star Wars movie. The shot above is quite similar to a scene when Obi Wan points out Mos Eisley to Luke.
Dantes View is one of the most spectacular of all locations in Death Valley National Park, and a convenient drive from the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, situated just about 15 miles to the South. There are multiple short hiking trails leading from the parking lot, offering even more interesting overlooks in different directions than “Mos Eisley”.
I got lucky and accidentally ended up here relatively early in the day (just after visiting Zabriskie Point) and before the sky had been completely blown out. There’s no shade at the top, so make sure you’re prepared to deal with the elements. And if my visit was anything to go by, prepare to face quite a bit of wind while you’re up there.
Dante’s View is certainly worth the short side-track, and one of the absolute coolest locations in the entire National Park. Make sure to check out some of Death Valley’s other incredible locations by clicking the links below.
Pentax K10D with DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
Shot in January 2010. Shot near Barker Dam.
This set of photos is my second attempt at creating interesting images by manipulating fire. The Camping and Backpacking Fire fulfills a primal urge, providing light and heat in a landscape that would otherwise be dark and frigid.
These six shots were taken during a recent Camping Trip to the Sandy Flat Campground in Sequoia National Forest. Unfortunately, my Circular Polarizer ($100 lens filter) was destroyed during the generation of these images (due to sheer stupidity).
While I don’t think that their quality was worth the loss, I did learn a valuable lesson in the process: never place sensitive photographic equipment in close proximity to extreme heat.
Sandy Flat Campground Directions:
From Highway 99 take Highway 178 east to 4 miles west of Lake Isabella. Turn right on Borel Road then right on to the Old Canyon Road. Approximately two miles turn right into Sandy Flats Campground.
Sandy Flats Campground Details:
Campground reservations must be made 3 days in advance, though sites are also available for first come first serve- don’t expect to be able to find those any time in Spring or Summer. There are 14 campsites available for tent camping (this place is not RV friendly). Six people and two cars are allowed at each site, which are equipped with picnic tables and a fire ring. They cost $18.00 per night and there is a $2.00 extra fee per day for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends.
Dogs are allowed here, but they must leashed at all times. There are no showers or flush toilets here, nor did I see potable water sources, though you’ll be just a short walk from a small stream, and a short drive from the Kern River itself. Most people use this campground for it’s easy access to Lake Isabella or the Kern River rafting and floating launching points nearby at Hobo Campground. Fishing in the area is also highly popular.
The photos in this post were taken during a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest, where I spent two nights at Sandy Flat Campground, just off the banks of the Kern River, near Isabella Lake.
Our trip immediately preceded one of the largest storms that California has seen in years- unleashing cold, wind, rain, and even heavy snow in many parts of Southern CA. There were also big weather related events like mudslide evacuations, a helicopter assisted rescue of a dog from the swollen LA river, and even tornado warnings in parts of Orange County. Fortunately, the two days we spent in Sequoia National Forest offered up blue skies and sunshine.
Driving from Southern CA, we entered the National Park on Highway 178, just East of Fresno. Deep into the drive on 178, which winds along the Kern River, I lost our only form of directions (electronic- on my phone). I lost reception at about the same time, preventing me from retrieving them with Google Maps.
Neither of us could remember the next step, but we were fairly confident that were just a few miles from our destination: Sandy Flat Campground. The next fork in the road was with “Kern Canyon Road”, which houses a large and official looking building- though I can’t remember what it was. We also found a big glass display case containing a detailed map of the region, which for some reason lacked the names of roads and campgrounds.
We decided to continue on the main road- down 178, soon finding a junction with Borel Road, which Sean decided to take. Right after turning on Borel I regained cell reception, pulled up the directions, and saw that he was right. I thought of Jung’s “Synchronicity”. Nice memory though Sean!
It was only another mile to Sandy Flat Campground, where we quickly managed to find friends who had arrived a few hours earlier and set up at a site. I was surprised that they were the only campers in the entire place, as I had been expecting the area to be relatively crowded. Our campsite was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at while car camping, and I would definitely consider a return trip. The Kern River was only a couple hundred feet from our tents and we had nice vista-like views of the surrounding hillsides.
Saturday afternoon we took a decent hike near Lake Isabella, which provided all the photos in this post. It was a beautiful area, though I wasn’t impressed by the 4 mile loop trail- not nearly long enough for a good backpacking trip, but definitely sufficient for a day hike.
Returning to our campsite darkness set in quickly, and with it came biting cold. Donning headgear and gloves, we huddled around the camp fire for a couple hours of interesting conversation. I spent much of the night playing fire-marshal, manipulating the logs in an attempt to create interesting patterns for my second series of Fire Photography. I destroyed my expensive Circular Polarizer in the process, and learned a valuable lesson that I won’t soon forget- sensitive photography equipment should not be placed near extreme heat.
On Sunday morning we visited Hobo Campground, finding much of it closed. The part we were able to explore appeared to be a river access portal for the popular white water rafting and kayaking that is the main draw of this region. We did manage to find a small, though somewhat secluded area with a couple of potential campsites right on the banks of the Kern, but I’d guess those are only viable during the winter while no one else is around. We tested out what appeared to be a small hiking trail on the southern end of the dirt parking lot, but it led directly into the river within a couple hundred feet, leaving much to be desired.
Returning to Sandy Flat, we ate lunch and took naps, waking up to what looked like gigantic thunderheads rolling in directly over our location. We packed up and left quickly, getting out of there just in time. As I put my last load of gear into the car, it started to drizzle. By the time we reached Bodfish to stop for lunch, it was raining pretty heavily. And during the ride home we witnessed some heavy downpours.
I hope the campground survived this week’s intense weather, because I’d love to return in the near future.
Zabriskie Point was the first major stop on my trip to Death Valley National Park. I arrived just as the sun was getting high enough to allow for strong sky poralization, though just a little too late to capture the longest early morning shadows. I’d love to return some day at sunset to shoot the golds and oranges of the hillsides.
Zabriskie Point is comprised of a small part of the Amargosa Range, a series of small eroded mountains. A dry river bed runs through the center of the area, offering some great potential hikes if you’re there during the right time of year. In the summer heat, this spot would probably be too hot to bother with.
Death Valley’s original industry was in Borax mining, and Zabriskie Point was named for the vice-president and manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company- Christian Brevoort Zabriskie. A small sign at the lookout spot commemorates his company’s achievements.
Zabriskie Point has captured the public’s fascination and even been featured in popular culture. In 1970 an Italian director used the location for his film – Zabriskie Point – featuring a soundtrack with offerings from some of the biggest names in rock music: Pink Floyd, Jerry Garcia & The Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones.
The fin-shaped mountain formation in the shot above is called the “Manley Beacon”, as is perhaps the most recognizable feature of the surrounding landscape. It was named after William L. Manly, who helped some miners escape certain death by leading them to safety way back in 1849. The early morning and late afternoon sun create a complex and absolutely fascinating network of shadows on its severely eroded hillsides.
I wish I had taken the time to explore the area a little further, but we were only in the Park for three days, and had quite a few more destinations to visit. I’d certainly have liked to walk the dry riverbed, and taken a closer look at the interesting colors on the much darker mountains in the background of this shot.
When I first shot these photos, I figured that the dark gray area could have been an ancient lava flow, but after reading up on the spot at Wikipedia, I think I was a little off. Apparently the tops of the dark mountains on the left of my shots are made of dried lava that erupted nearly five million years ago, but the floor of the valley is something entirely different.
Either way, this is a beautiful spot, and one that should be visited during any trip to Death Valley. It’s conveniently situated about half-way between the Mesquite Sand Dunes and Dante’s View, so make sure to stop by when you’re in the Park!
Out of all the National Parks camping trips I’ve taken this past year, including visits to some of the nation’s absolute best (Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequioa, Death Valley, Saguaro, The Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon), my recent camping trip in Joshua Tree National Park was by far my favorite. While each of the National Parks offers something unique, Joshua Tree stands a cut above the rest as the most outlandish, most incredible, and most captivating of them all. And it’s just so easy to photograph.
To put it simply- Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t look like it should exist on Planet Earth. My advice to those people currently struck with “Avatar Blues” is to stop staring at glowing rectangles for long enough to get out of the house and visit a National Park- but especially to visit Joshua Tree. It may not be covered in waterfalls or rainforest, but it’s got a stark beauty that can only be found in rugged desert terrain. And just look at that deep blue sky!
A single trip to Joshua Tree National Park should be more than enough to stop those with Avatar Blues from complaining about our world being “dull”. But whether or not you’re upset about not being able to live on Pandora, you’d be doing yourself a huge favor to check the place out, because it’s certainly one that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Personally, I’ve never been so inspired by any other landscape, especially one so stark, and yet so full of potential. Perhaps that’s what I love so much about Joshua Tree though- that at first glance it appears desolate and empty, though upon further investigation, one finds it’s anything but that.
The sun-bleached rock piles and scattered gray shrubs littering the desert floor, mostly dead now, will soon return to full splendor with the rain and milder temperatures brought about by Spring and Summer (and the current wave of storms slamming into Southern CA). And as the Joshua Trees and wildflowers begin to bloom, they’ll fill that once barren landscape with a sea of incredible color and beauty. There’s nothing quite like it- the high desert in full bloom.
And though on this past trip I encountered mostly gray, thirsty shrubs, and scraggly looking JTrees, it was still one of my most powerful visits, taking me along for an emotional roller coaster ride- and stirring a deeply spiritual experience.
Our plan to explore the Park was simple, calling for everyone to meet up at Ryan Campground- one of the most popular of the Park’s many camping destinations. Since campgrounds are offered exclusively on a first-come first-serve basis, we decided that if it were full we arrived, everyone would then rendezvous at Jumbo Rocks Campground instead (which is far larger). We had to coordinate for 5 separate cars to arrive at the same location, within that vast expanse that is Joshua Tree, and since cell reception is lost just after entering the Park, I had little hope that it would all work out as neatly as it did.
Fortunately, like so many of my other recent trips- we seemed to have been blessed by Fate and all of the many many pieces of our camping puzzle fell quite neatly into place. Chaz arrived first and found Ryan Campground bursting at the seams with people, but was patient enough to wait a couple minutes to see if anyone would take off, was soon rewarded for the effort, and managed to locate us an excellent spot- seemingly meant to be- at number 26 (a number of special significance for me).
He also happened to paying our campground fee at the entrance just as I pulled up, which was a coincidence of exquisite fortune considering that I couldn’t remember what kind of car he drove, and most likely would have blown right past him on my way through the campground.
After setting up my gigantic tent, which was to serve as the beacon for our later arrivals, we decided to kill the next few hours by heading out to Jumbo Rocks Campground to shoot the area in the early afternoon-light. On our way we happened upon a Red-Tailed Hawk flying low along the road- another omen of particular importance for me- so I slowed my car to a crawl and watched for a few minutes, until it eventually perched atop a nearby Joshua Tree just begging to be captured on camera.
I strapped on my biggest lens (it’s only 200mm long unfortunately) and started my stalk. The bird was seemed on edge and didn’t want to let me get very close though, and took to the skies just as I got within a reasonable range for a good shot. It didn’t fly off however, and instead circled my head in a somewhat threatening, but certainly awe-inspiring manner. After a minute of two, it let out a fierce scream that echoed for miles around valley, then flew off into parts unknown, breaking us of it’s spell.
It was an encounter I won’t soon forget, and I snapped one of my favorite wildlife shots ever during the ordeal.
We spent the rest of the afternoon tromping around Jumbo Rocks shooting the formations and just generally enjoying the tranquility of the area until it was time to return to camp to greet the next wave of arrivals. It was around 1:30 by the time we pulled into our campsite. We decided that a round of Beer Pong was in order and quickly got to work on setting things up on the conveniently-level picnic table at the site. Chaz and I each shot incredibly well, making over half of our throws in the early rounds, but I managed to eek out the win with just a single cup left, right as Sean and Tanya arrived- apparently on cosmic time.
Cassie showed up soon afterward and the Beer Pong game officially took center stage for the rest of the evening. Darkness fell swiftly during a group walk through the near desert, so we got a massive fire going to stay the cold. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that chilly out there this time- failing to even dip below freezing. Then just as we’d given up hope on their arrival, Jacob and Travis appeared with their dogs (and an interesting story about an encounter with the local cops).
We went to bed after shushed to quietness by a member of our neighboring site, and to be honest- I think we deserved it. It may not have been that late, but it certainly seemed late. Night in the desert lasts an eternity.
I got up the next day and did some quick shooting under the early morning light, quickly visiting the Wonderland of Rocks and the Barker Dam parking area to see if either would be worth returning to later. When I got back to the campsite, we all packed up then discussed what to do next.
There was a consensus on going for a hike, but we limited in options since the Ranger explained that dogs are not allowed on most trails in the park, enforced by an expensive ticket at something like $75. We decided to try some bouldering and drove to the Wonderland of Rocks area, where the dogs would be allowed to roam with us.
It was mostly empty, and quite an interesting part of the Park. The mountains here are all made of smaller rocks, piled up on top of each other- with larger formations, but smaller individual component rocks. Hiking about a half mile into the surrounding hills, we stopped at one and began a long climb toward that top that only Sean completed.
I’m not gonna make any excuses for my failure to reach the pinnacle- and I won’t complain about my camera serving as a ten pound pendulum swinging about neck. I was intent on making it there until Fate itself seemed to intervene on my behalf, making the dog bark just as I was set to execute my most dangerous move of the climb. I almost want to go back just to get to the top. I still say this looks quite similar to Weathertop from the Lord of the Rings movie. It was a great hike, but I was still hungry for additional exploration.
Chaz and got our fix by walking the trail around Barker Dam. And it was entirely worth it! This short hike produced some of my favorite images from the trip. The trail also hosted little signposts explaining the local flora and fauna. I would highly suggest touring this loop as it is chock-full of stunning scenery.
It even contains a beautiful set of original Native America Pictographs. I was saddened to read that they had been defaced by having some of then chipped out of the rocks to be taken as personal possessions, and that many of them had been colored in recently with spray paint. It’s such a shame that people just don’t understand the simple concept of leaving things alone.
The pictographs were still some of the best I’ve seen in recent years, and I spent a while looking at them, trying to figure out what they meant. It seems to me that some sort of story of an adventure is being told here- perhaps of a migration from one part of the land to another. I haven’t been able to find an explanation for them in online searches.
Chaz took off following the Barker Dam hike, as he wanted to get off the road before darkness fell. His tires were extremely bald, with the metal strings clearly sticking out of the rubber. Someone in the parking lot even walked by his car and told that it was “Not good at all”, and that he “wasn’t going to make it very far”. I did a little bit more shooting in the surrounding area, enjoying the changing light of the late afternoon that bathes everything in a rich yellow glow.
I put away my camera and decided to sit for a few minutes in complete soaking, soaking in the sun and the beauty of Joshua Tree. I felt at peace, and inspired to share the beauty surrounding me with others. That’s what I like so much about Photography- I really hope my images will inspire people to get outside and enjoy the natural environment. I left just as the sun began to truly set, making, affording me an excellent view of the young New Year’s most beautiful sunset.