My next big trip was during spring break for UVSC in the middle of March. Involved in the trip where myself, Brandon & Michelle Allen, Gerald Homeyer, Deven Peterson, Brad Johnson, Juanita Ahquin, Joshua Clarke, Shaliese Mckinney, Mike Goates, Matt Chambers, & Andrea Garner. After much debating we decided to go down to Death Valley. I was a little worried about this location because normally when I put a photo trip together for students I take them somewhere that I am familiar with so that I know how and when and where to get us around. Trepidations aside, the overall consensus agreed on Death Valley so Death Valley it was. Actually I was excited about going to Death Valley since it would be my first time, it was just the worries about semantics.
Off we went, we had my car and two trucks. We left early Wednesday planning on getting to Death Valley in time for sunset. We made great time so we decided to stop in Rhyolite, a little ghost town just outside the park. We stopped and photographed there for awhile.
The next morning we went down to Badwater to photograph at sunrise. Again we did not know where to go or what to expect so we got up a little early which proved fortunate because we did not realize how far away it was. The other thing to realize about Death Valley is that you can walk for miles in some of these locations and they don't change all that much. So we started wandering around out in Badwater and I finally gave up looking for the great spots. Badwater was the great equalizer. Location was basically irrelevant and it fell upon us to try and create something unique and interesting without creating clones of each other. Easier said then done. Badwater, for those that don't know, is the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level.
The worst part about Badwater wasn't discovered until a day later. I had all of my film in a fanny pack. When we were getting ready to leave I had all of my camera gear sitting in the parking lot waiting. To kill some time I decided that I would take another picture. So, I dropped down onto the sidewalk below and for some stupid reason I left the fanny pack there. I walked back to the car a different way and then we left. I was fully loaded up with film so I didn't need a reload until the next day. When I started to look for my film I realized I was in trouble. I ran over to the ranger station to see if any one had turned it in. I started to explain my story when the ranger interrupted and said, "Your the photographer that lost the film." I was so excited. I told him yes it was me, expressed my gratitude for someone turning it in and then asked what I needed to do to get it back, thinking it was just behind the counter. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a note. "Actually, someone put the bag up on a fence and then drove back here and told us that you had forgotten it." So, my bag of film had been sitting in the 100+ degree Death Valley sun for over a day. If it was still even there. Someone was so courteous to drive 20 miles to tell the ranger that I had left my bag but left it there. Needless to say I was the victim of a $250 brain fart. My film and bag was long gone. It would have been worthless even if it wasn't.
To beat the heat we spent a lot of time playing games in our tent or playing around at Scotty's Castle where there was at least shade. We had planned on going to the race track for one evening so we set out on a very long dirt road taking Brandon and Josh's trucks and leaving my car in a parking lot. We were packed in nice and tight. We finally arrived much later than we had anticipated and where scrambling to find the cool rocks before the light was gone. It is a crazy place. It looks like a dried up lake bed that cracks in a honeycomb pattern. It is flat and barren except for these rocks about a foot wide for the bigger ones that seem to miraculously move around the basin. They leave track marks wherever they go. It is speculated that they move after it rains which makes the ground slick and the high winds that are common in the area actually do the pushing. What's weird is that two rocks side by side may move in opposing directions or one rock will change paths multiple times. It has been photographed way too many times but it was definitely worth the trek. I found it a challenge in composition and invigorating to be in a place like this. We stayed out after the sun was gone and tried to photograph the star trails. I tried to get clever and tried using a bunch of 4x5 camera movements. Another way of saying it was a complete disaster.
We did take the morning to drive over to Furnace Creek and see if they had a better camp. SHADE. We immediately reserved the spot and relocated. Note to self. When I go back to Death Valley camp at Furnace Creek. We played with Gerald's dry plates and discovered that you can run in front of his camera and flip it off and that it won't record anything. We also think that it brings good luck because it was by far the most successful of all his dry plate images. (photographic lesson learned ~ dry plate+flipping bird=success)That night most people headed back to the sand dunes but to take a back road and see if they could find a better spot to photograph. This was about the time I realized that my film was missing so me, Mike and Shaliese drove back to Badwater to see if by some miracle it was there. As noted before it was not so we took the scenic drive back and ended up at Zabriske Point for sunset. It was very nice (ruined a few exposures by opening the back of my panoramic back, me and film were not getting along well on this trip.) We decided we should bring everybody back here for sunrise.
Here are a few of my favorite black and white large format images.