Death Valley Whirled To Zion: Day 3 From Dune To Dune
The next morning comes and there is a nice touch of pink red hue across the sky as I gaze out of the tent. Quickly grabbing my gear it doesn’t take long to get into a position to get a good composition to work with from the campsite. The way the light is casting a reddish glow along the horizon this was actually the type of light I was hoping for and filled with enthusiasm its impossible not to let out a yell of excitement as it feels amazing welcoming the new morning here in such open vast beauty. The light begins to fade and there is still some nice features in the clouds and sky to work with for long exposures for some further images. After finding a good one I have a hard time not wishing this was the view for the first light image, but quickly erase that thought and remind myself how grateful I am to be here in this time and place.
After enjoying the view and taking a few more mages eventually working my way back to camp to breakdown the tent. As much as I would like to hang out for awhile and enjoy a breakfast the decision is to hit the trail. There is a good amount of cloud cover at the moment and it is not forecasted to last and eventually reveal a clear blue hot sunny sky that will cook down on the desert below. Additionally after here there is a bit of a trek to the next destination so the sooner I get going the better. Barely seeing a slight glimmer of where the car is from my vantage point which is pretty much a straight diagonal line down in theory the hike back seems straightforward. Making note to stay more to the valley floor side this time to avoid any of the washouts that come from the surrounding mountains. After making good time, this route is proving to be much easier than the assent. It was two hours coming down from the dunes and it was just in enough time as all the clouds were soon gone and the sun was getting hot and water was getting low. As I drove down the dusty desert road there is a good sense of life and energy that comes over me and can look forward to returning to those dunes someday.
Back on 190 and over the Panamint Pass to the main part of the park and a brief stop for fuel and something cold, feeling invigorated to hit the road and be off to the next new adventure of Ibex Dunes. It is a nice drive to the remote south east corner of the park there is a few ways to get to the Ibex area. I’m opting for the main road that runs along the border of the park instead of going backcountry the whole way to save some time although eventually you have to head down backcountry road to get to the dunes. The road to get there is a mix of rocky, sand and bumpy terrain but fun to drive and yes it definitely helps to have legit high clearance here or a preferred 4×4 would be better. Theres is a stream you have to drive through which can get deep if it rains so be prepared. Side note the vehicle I’m driving is a newer jeep compass trail hawk edition and can say I’m actually fairly impressed with this smaller SUV, not sure how the Jeep Compass does has an everyday vehicle that you own but after this trip I would rent another especially with the gas mileage this vehicle gets for what it can do.
After arriving at the dunes there is two other vehicles there one parked down at the main parking area the other was a truck camper down the road. I drive to turn around past the truck camper and notice the man is wearing some high rubber boats he’s also carrying a bucket and a gadget that looks to be a some sort of snake grabber, guess this confirms the rumor that there are rattlesnakes in the area. After finding a place to park and hang for awhile the sun is hot and having some extra time to get hydrated is nice and I can additionally get my bearings figured out for the nights stay. The other car is actually where the best spot is so I decide to wait and see if any one shows up at the car, eventually someone does and they do leave. Not waiting long to move to that spot and take a moment to get the car leveled as I make the decision to sleep in the vehicle due to some heavy winds being forecasted.
Its about an hour hike to the dunes across some mostly barren terrain that is now showing some signs of life with wild flowers beginning to appear amongst the sparse low lying creosote bushes. Once arriving at the dunes they are basically two fields one larger and more vast one smaller and more condense. They both have rather high steep peaks that are misleading to the eye in exactly how big they are until you climb them. Heading for the bigger dune field first after ending up right in the middle of the two dune area upon hiking here. The sand itself, the shape of the dunes and surrounding landscape is quite beautiful and pause to take it in has at the moment there is not a soul in site. About 45 minutes into exploring and sampling angles and compositions taking mental notes I hike a peak to get a better vantage point while scanning across the desert there’s a group of people walking my way, glad I took that moment to appreciate being alone. Deciding to change plans and walk back down the peak to the spot of an earlier composition I really liked and it comes together well as a cloud pauses in the frame for me.
Shortly after wrapping up from making the picture the group of photographers appears on top of the peak I had just climbed. Deciding this would be a good time to explore the other dune field, it’s actually closer and easier to get to than continuing to explore the area I’m in now, there is also a nice curvature in a dune in the distance that will make a good composition in that direction. There is two compositions that I really enjoy and stick with these while waiting out the light. A couple of clouds are in the sky but not enough to really create any color so the focus is on mostly shapes and shadows, which is great as I look back now and one of these is now possibly my favorite image.
The wind is supposed to pick up pretty drastically tonight and there is starting to be signs of that as dust is beginning to be blown across the terrain in front of the dunes. As I look over to the other dune field and see the group of photographers on the sand peak in the distance there is now a blowing a swirl of sand coming off its crown, I now know what my composition will be in the morning. The signs of blowing sand only begin to become more evident and decide its time to head back to the vehicle to make camp for the night.
After struggling to get my dinner cooked in the wind, there is no real protection from the elements here just your vehicle. Eventually retreating into the car which has seats that fold flat rather nicely and make for a decent accommodation. The other group has left and only in the far off distance is a dim light of the truck camper from earlier. It feels really nice here there is a great vibe to the surrounding environment it is hard not to feel relaxed. There is t mobile service in the area and I decide to tap into the outside world to get a closer look at the weather and see what the latest news is on the pandemic. The weather doesn’t look good for the remainder of my trip in Death Valley National Park there is a chance for rain tomorrow which can cause its own adventures here has last spring I witnessed some flooding that shut down the roads in the park for a day basically.
Additionally there is a forecast for wind up to 50 mph that will make for really terrible and pretty much impossible photography conditions and it’s going to last until the end of my trip. Alternatively there is the chance to go to Zion National Park it’s 4.5 hours away so after checking the forecast the weather actually looks pretty good in Zion for next two days. Deciding to sleep on it and see what the day brings tomorrow I keep that an open option. Additionally I check to see what is going on with the pandemic and it looks like fear and uncertainty are becoming more spread with talks of possible travel shutdowns. Figuring the chances of that happening in the next couple of days are slim but my mind is drifting slightly with the notion of the adventure of driving across country to get home. Its also troubling to see how this pandemic scenario is developing and the concerns of how tragic this could be weigh on me but in return it just makes me grateful to have this opportunity to be here now and decide to tune out and listen to the desert wind sing me to sleep.
To see more of my imagery in National Parks visit my website at National Parks Limited Edition Fine Art Prints