Saturday, March 31, 2007

Death Valley

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.

Rhyolite volunteer guide.

We had decided to camp at Stovepipe Wells, solely based on location on the map and for no other good reason. It seemed a logical in between for the park geographically. It proved to not be such a logical choice for many reason. It is basically a parking lot that you can camp in. There is absolutely no shade and don't let it being March deceive you, Death Valley is probably the most logically named national park in the system. It was over 100 degrees while we where there. It was close to the sand dunes but we decided that the sand dunes would only be really good to photograph during the summer when no one in their right mind would venture further than 15 feet from the road so the dunes wouldn't be destroyed by tourists. That is where landscape photographers come in, not in their right mind. We went to the dunes for our first sunset there with mixed results. It was very colorful but didn't get to a location that we liked.

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.
If you look behind Shaliese you can see a marker for where sea level should be.

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.
Brothel's became a running joke for the trip.

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.
At Scotty's Castle. (This is not staged.)
Teakettle Junction on the way out to the race track.

We finally packed up about 11:30 and started the long drive home. I road back in Brandon's truck and took the time to slowly doze off. We made it back to the parking lot and expected Josh's truck to show up any time. We waited and waited until I was sufficiently nervous. (Thats the problem with being in charge of a trip, if anything goes wrong its my butt.) After about 20 minutes we decided to unpack Brandon's truck so that we would have room to haul back anyone stranded and took off back down the dirt road. It only took about 5 minutes before we saw the truck. Apparently they blew out the back tire on the truck. By blow out I mean disintegrated. It looked like a rim wrapped in spaghetti. We were all sufficiently tired by the time we finally made it back to camp. We elected to not wake up for sunrise in the morning.

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.
I thought the race track was overly photographed. It has nothing on Zabriskie Point. I decided that my pictures from the previous night would be sufficient and that I would do some documentary work instead. The previous picture was my favorite attempt. After this we broke camp and started to head towards Las Vegas. We planned on going to the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Bellagio and then head up to Zion to spend the night. This is were we met up with Andrea. I had seen the exhibit already from the fall break trip we took to Havasupai the previous year. It was still quite good the second time around.Gerald wanting to do some more landscapes.
We made it into Zion with just a little light left so we just pulled off the road and went down by the Virgin River. We woke up the next morning and made it back to the Temple of the Sinawava. I took the 8x10 Deardorff planning on creating my first 8x10 negative. After lugging the camera about two miles in I climbed up on a rock with the camera and went to pull it out only to hear the crackling of glass. Apparently the last time it was used the large ground glass was placed against the outside of the bag instead of in the middle so that it could bounce against our hips whenever we carried it. Luckily I brought my 4x5 to so I was still able to photograph. We apparently had a little too much fun and lost track of time. When we started heading back we passed Brandon's wife Michelle hiking down the side of the road. We were supposed to vacate the campground by 11 and we had missed it. She got chewed out and was hiking down to find us and pass on the chewing out. I saw the look on her face and decided it best to let Brandon placate her. This pretty much wraps up our spring break. My car did make a stop in Kolob Canyons for sunset and then officially headed home.

Here are a few of my favorite black and white large format images.

I noticed in photographing at the race track that if I gave titles to my compositions it opened up new picture ideas that I hadn't considered before. This was my way of trying to photograph the race track in a unique way.
Rush Hour.
The starting line.
The Spectator.
Coming in Second.


Amber said...

I want to go in one of these trips. Betcha didn't know I'm a hard core canyoneer and love camping too. I need to shoot with other photographers. It's nice to learn from each other.

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