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Author Topic: Death Valley California, USA  (Read 11180 times)
dwdallam
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« on: January 16, 2008, 11:00:37 PM »
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I posted a topic about Death Valley in California a few weeks ago and had some great replies.

I just finished my time there and wanted to return the favor of information.

I'll edit this when I get home, as I am still around 600 miles out at this time and on an unfamiliar computer.

We stayed in Stovepipe Wells the first night and arrived at around 4PM or so. The rooms were 95 dollars for two people,and they .nwere clean and perfectly suitable. The pool was open and it's heated to 78% degrees.

They have one place to eat plus a saloon, where I think you can also get some things to eat also, but we didn't eat there. The food was very decent and priced failry at aroun 20.oo dollars for a NY steak and 12.00 dollars for a chicken stir fry, which my friend said was cooked nicely and tasted good. The steak was damn decent too. They ahve designated hours for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a hour or so between times. Dinner starts at 5:30.

Gas was about 80 cents more than in Tehachapi or what you would call "regularly priced gas." The people attending the place were all nice and helpful. I never thought the prices were a rip off in the least, not even the convenience/general store.

The dunes are about 5 minutes away and within walking distance of the road.  However, they were covered with foot prints resembling a well used beach the entire time we were there.

The first night we walked through about 2-3 miles of Mosaic Canyon, which is about 5 minutes from Stovepipe Wells. It has one part that I found photographically interesting, looking like smooth marble walls.

We went back and ate dinner and then loaded my studio strobes and battery packs into my Tacoma 4WD and headed back for some night shots of the area at Mosaic Canyon.   We spent three hours setting up lights, batteries, cords, remotes, etc., and finally I started shooting. About 1/3 of the way through, and remeber it's pitch black out there except for the secondary lamps that you bring, and I wasn't watching where I was stepping and stepped off of the lip of one of the edges of the marble walls down a three foot drop. I caught my foot on the back end and thought I had torn ligaments in my knee. I've torn ligaments before in sports and knew what to wait for--this searing pain that can actually make you pass out. I was lucky. The pain never materialized and started subsiding after about a minute.

I didn;t want to take any chances, though, and had my friend accompany me back to the truck where I ate about 10 anti-inflammatories and iced my knee for 30 minutes. Then we walked back to the equipment and started again, this time paying much more attention to teh dangers of Death Valley and shooting in the dark in that environment. I was REALLY lucky, even though I didn't at that time know if I was going to be able to walk on it the next day. The next day was planned our trip to Eureka Dunes, and they are, for those who don't know, 50 miles from the nearest ranger station.

We left for the Eureka Dunes early the next day. I could hardly walk when I got up, but having this sort of injury before knew that if the ligaments were not torn or extremly strained, walking would relieve the pain and I would be ok. After about and hour I was walking and the pain was workable.

The Eureka Dunes are in the northern most area of Death Valley (DV), and half of the road is unpaved, very rocky, as in ROCK ROAD, and had many unmarked washout along the way. Let me say that when people say the roads are WASHBOARD and hard on equipment and tricky to navigate, they (rangers) are not exaggerating in the least.

There are differential busters in the middle of the road, rocks about 12" in diameter, sharp sidewall piercing rocks everywhere, and the washboard is truly hard on your wits and takes a lot of concentration to navigate at 35+ MPH. You don't want to go much slower than the posted 35MPH either. If you do, the washboard will jar your teeth out and you'll take hours and hours to reach Eureka Dunes, which is 45 miles of this type of road, with the exception of about 1.5 miles, which is paved. The very last several iles was freshly graded and allowed us to relax a bit though.

I can't stress enough that this type of road is a thrasher for your vehicle. I have a 2007 Toy Tacoma Access cab with BF Goodrich All Terrain KO series tires, and I would not want to travel that road in much anything less, or perhaps a full sized two wheel drive pick up with like type tires. And if I ever go again, I'm renting a vehicle. It's nasty. The rangers stressed also being careful of the sharp rocks and blowouts. You don't want to have a major blow out--more than your spares--because it also gets extremely cold here at night. If I do this type of trip again, and I take my own truck, I'll be mounting two BFG KO type tires overhead. But I'm not  taking my vehicle ever again.  

We got to the dunes around 2:30. There were two reason I wanted to go into this type of back country is because people said it would be best to get away from the footprints, and the dunes are sometimes over 700 feet tall.

When we pulled up there were two other trucks there, and no less than 20 sets of footprints going up the side of the dunes, with two sets of hikers adding more. I was pretty sick about that, but hiked around the west side of the dunes to see if I could get away from the prints. I did, but since the face was married, I would have to walk for miles up very steep dunes and then keep walking over the dunes to find a place photo worthy. That would require one to spend the night on the dunes to get up soon enough to shoot in the morning, or hike all day and set up to shoot the sunset, or walk out at night. All in all, that would be very hard carrying enough water and food plus equipment to stay over, plus all your camera equipment. There is no way one person could do that. We only had one night, one sunset, and one sunrise.

When we got there, I was warm in jeans and a T-shirt. After the sun set, the temperature dropped to freezing in about an hour, and I hadn't thought about that because I failed to check the elevation compared to Stovepipe Wells, which is about 180 feet. It turns out that the Eureka Dunes are at 3000 feet.

I walked around the west end of the duines for about 2 miles and set up to shoot a late sunset. I had a compass to find where the sun would set, but the compass had lost its polarity, compliments of being under the box in the back where the subwoofer is, and the subwoofers magnet. I didn't actually figure that out until after we left the valley, so we had to wait for the sun to get fairly low to counter the compass and affirm our intuition wqhere west was. I shot what I could and returned to camp.

We ate and started a fire. We turned in about 8 PM. I slept in my camper shell and my partner slept in a tent. He had a 10 degree bag and I had two heavy camp style Coleman cloth bags unzipped on top of me. we also had chemical body warmers and emergency space type blankets just in case, but I wasn't expecting anything colder than 35 degrees, since what I read about weather, and the night before it was 45 degrees in Stovepiope Wells. But I failed to calculate for the 3000 foot elevation where we were. Well, since this is getting long, let me say that if it had dropped anotehr 5 degrees, we probably would have been breaking camp and leaving. We did sleep, but it was uncomfortable and the feeling was right on the verge of knowing that any additional drop in temp and we'd have been in trouble.

I awoke in my camper to find ice on the inside of the windows from my breath, and the bag was wet on top

Going to now send this and continue below
« Last Edit: January 19, 2008, 03:05:30 AM by dwdallam » Logged

dwdallam
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2008, 11:22:11 PM »
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The water from my breath was making the bag and windows wet and then it was freezing. I had to urinate once, and I didn't leave the truck, choosing to do it right out of the back, and we both wore layers outdoor clothing, with Chili Pepper type cold weather underwear and full face masks. The instant I pulled the bags off of me, I was shivering violently. Finally I saw the sky getting light and knew we were going to make it. I asked my friend how he was and he said he used everything I had given him, including all of the heat packets and the emergency blanket, that he was cold, but not shivering, but did sleep well.

Our three gallon water jug was about 80% frozen, and the two gallon Gator Aid we had was pure slush. We figured it got down to around 28 degrees for a few hours the night before. I walked up the west side of the dunes shooting all the way, but it would not have been what I would have chosen, given I could pick to shoot anywhere in the dunes. I knew what I wanted, but getting there was prohibitive--these dunes are angular, hard to climb, and expansive.

We broke camp around 10AM and left for civilization. I might say that it was a scene to behold. Extreme silence, stillness, and stark beauty where the Dunes rose angularly steep up on the western side and tapered off to the west surrounded by rock mountains all around, capped with the whiteness of snow. I should also say that dropping in from the north instead of the south is much better, according to what I've read, although all of those roads were closed due to snow and rock slides.

One of my stops, and maybe the one I looked forward to the most was the Playa Racetrack.  I decided not to drive that after asking numerous ranger s and those coming back which stopped at the Uhebebe Crater, which is just off the road to the Race Track. There was a couple there in a new 4WD Diesel Van with the BFG KO series tires like mine, but about three times toe size, and they said the road was so back they they lost some of theri fog lights on the round trip, and saw several flats on heavy duty 4WDs also. And then we say two wheel drives with nearly street tires making it fine.

We got back to Stovepipe and then headed up to Augeureberry Point. It's an easy drive, but I failed again to realize that the sun was setting in the west, and the nicest view is in the east. It was an impressive view on all sides, though. No images.

This was our last night, so we decided to stay in Furnace creek to be close to a very easy shoot--Zabriskie Point. and this is the very last place I wanted to shoot due to it's road side location and nearly all people have shot this area. I decided to do this becsaue i wanted to get at least one image I could display, perhaps, even though it would be a recover of many others, with one exception. I was going to shoot the area to the left of the point, and use a 200mm to shoot the deep crevices just left of the point and just to the right of it. I wasn't going to shoot the Beacon at all. After that we left teh park, and we were both beat. I logged around 300 miles in the park in two days and two nights.

Continued below.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2008, 03:07:35 AM by dwdallam » Logged

dwdallam
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« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2008, 11:39:35 PM »
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Notes:

Ask the locals that attend the hotels and camps and the rangers where to and how to photograph specific areas--many of them are experienced amateur photographers and they are there every night, and they can really give you some good light and time tips.

Furnace creek was 133 a night compared to 95 at Stovepipe, and the rooms were nicer, had a phone, TV, with a death valley video playing, and a small fridge. The cafe was decent and the prices were cheap--8-12 US for a good meal. Gas was about the same or perhaps slightly cheaper than Stovepipe. I never felt like I was getting ripped off by either place.

Furnace Creek is also much clloser to teh popular places.

Visit Titus Canyon. We didn't, but the video playing at Furnace Creek convinced me it was a do worthy.

I wanted to shoot Badwater the last morning, but the front desk clerk talked me out of it--he said there was no water in the basin and the sun didn't hit the floor until past 10AM. This is invaluable information.

Death Valley is a really hard place to get a hold of photographically. I have a profound new respect for those that do get unique images here. It's a vast place and you don't have any time to make up for bad or ignorant choices on locations--you simply miss the shot.

I would suggest, for those with time, to go to Death Valley for two days and see all the regular sites by just doing a drive by type visit, about 15 minutes in each spot, and then spend the rest of the time hiking when you need to to get a location. Do as many places as you can. The north area is much less popular, like Titus canyon, but is magnificent. Do this and note the sun positions each time.

Come back after marking where you want to be at sun rise and sunset. The sun comes up later than sunrise because of the mountains, and teh light fall off is complete, with almost no residual color after the sun goes behind the mountains.

I wanted to find an interesting plant in the dunes and use a strobe to create a san/plant like black and white studio image, except that it would be done in the wilderness, and at night to provide a black background. I didn't find that opportunity. It gives you something to do after the sun goes down. Although most of you don't care about studio type stuff.

A ranger told me to shoot Mosaic Canyon in direct overhead light because the rocks I spoke of above really like up and their color comes out. Any other time and the canyon is in shadow.

I feel compelled to return to this place because I think there is a very good shot to be had here, a unique shot, not simply a good shot. I have family about 3.5 hours away, and when I  visit I may return until I get that image.

Death Valley can be very dangerous. You expect rangers to err on the side of caution, but here they tell you like it is. If they say, "tough" they mean it. Be very aware of your surroundings. If you go down in a remote location, chances of you being found are slim.

Thanks for the replies, but even more, I hope it can help someone when planning this trip.

Here are some pretty much out of camera shots, with a little level adjustment. If you look close enough, you can even see hairs and spots from a dirty sensor. That happened the first night at Eureka Dunes because I actually did a lens change while I was in the dunes themselves, on a fleece pullover and nothing more to protect the camera.

I'm not happy with any of the images I shot, but I thought some of you might like to see the scenery anyway.

This is from the night I almost killed myself in Mosaic Canyon using studio strobes and battery packs:



First night in Eureka Dunes after my sensor cluttering lens change:



Again, first night in Eureka Dunes:



Morning in Eureka Dunes after we almost froze to death:



Again, Eureka Dunes:



Hand Held shot from Augeraberry Point, which I thought was an ugly POV and crappy haze in the sky, and which now I wish I had shot with a tripod:



And last and probably least, from the place I didn't want to shoot at all, Zabriskie Point:



And for my finale, I'm going to spend all of tomorrow cleaning my equipment.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2008, 09:00:50 PM by dwdallam » Logged

Tim Gray
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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2008, 07:59:24 AM »
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Thanks for posting.  I'm going to be there with a Radiant Vista workshop first week of March.
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Hank
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« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2008, 11:12:13 AM »
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Good, frank analysis of the place.  With family so close, it makes sense to return and put your "lessons" to good use.  And I think your goal of a slower approach for a few very good images is right on the money.  It has required many trips to the park at different times of year and in variable weather for me to develop a sense of the place.  I'm more capable of getting good shots on short visits now, but that's based on experience gained on prior long visits.  Having done the long distances in a short time, you now have an inkling for future visits.  Driving and distances have to become a part of your strategy.

We find it most profitable to focus on only one or two locations per day, or at most one in the morning and another nearby for evening.  As you so well document, long distances can beat up your body and your gear.  For example, we spend a whole day, and sometimes two days back to back in Titus Canyon.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2008, 12:22:20 PM »
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Great report, and I agree with Hank.

I'm so glad I had almost two weeks there last January on my first trip there. I had time to explore a number of locations early on and then get back to the best (for me) ones for two or three or more visits. Although we had a rental SUV, we still turned back on some roads that seemed too rough, and we decided that the time and effort necessary to do justice to both the Eureka Dunes and the Racetrack were not worth it to us.

January seemed a great time to do the Stovepipe Dunes, aas there were fewer footprints than later in the season. Also, I found (after a couple of tries) that the best way in was not from near the signs on the road, but much closer to the Stovepipe gas station. There you walk mostly across flat playa until you get to just a few of the lateral dunes before approaching the big dunes. There are many fewer footprints in that area, which I visited both early and late on more than one day.

Of course, I still got to spend some time with the clone stamp in PS to remove some of the remaining footprints.
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framah
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« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2008, 12:42:08 PM »
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I went out there in the Spring a few years back and photographed the desert wild flowers blooming. It is amazing how much color there is at that time!
Check this site for what and when.
http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/ca.html
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Hank
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« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2008, 02:51:23 PM »
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I got pulled away before adding my final point, so here it is:

Since we're in our own vehicle when visiting (4wd Tunda w/ canopy), we rely on ice chests for organization and storage.  I think there are four back there right now.  Great tables and seats in camp, but for cold weather they are also terrific  for keeping things like water from freezing overnight.  You need containers for organizing anyway, so might as well make them insulated and rigid enough to use as furniture in camp.  

As for sleeping cold, we use cots to get us up off the ground with an insulated pad on each cot.  It makes a huge difference.  We selected a tent large enough for two, plus we can leave them set up in the bed of the truck if we want with gear storage beneath.
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« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2008, 02:29:31 PM »
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Tim Gray,
I did a search on Radiant Vista workshops, and no success, who are they, what is their forte

With regards Badwater,I have found it best before sun up--just as it tips the Sierras
Happy trails
QB
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« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2008, 03:52:20 PM »
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Tim Gray,
I did a search on Radiant Vista workshops, and no success, who are they, what is their forte

With regards Badwater,I have found it best before sun up--just as it tips the Sierras
Happy trails
QB
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Try here: [a href=\"http://www.radiantvista.com/workshops]http://www.radiantvista.com/workshops[/url]
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Don Libby
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« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2008, 06:29:45 PM »
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Great trip report on a wonderful place to photograph while at the same time one of the harshest, dangerous, and lest forgiving climates in North America.  All of the above makes it one of my most favorite places to spend time at.  

Hope your leg is feeling better!


don
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« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2008, 10:21:06 PM »
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Hi, New poster here!

  I might just add that the Titus Canyon trip is only one way...leading into Death Valley, and the road is only open part of the year, though I can't remember what part. We took it in November.  It's a real interesting slot canyon that is only about 10-12 feet wide at a couple of points. Due to that, it is extremely important that you take into consideration the weather. If it is raining anywhere around the area, DON'T go into the canyon. The walls are quite high and if you get caught in the narrow areas of the canyon with a flash flood coming down on you, there is literally nowhere to go.

Jerry
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2008, 12:04:23 AM »
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Great write-up.   First-time visitors will benefit from your experiences, good and bad.  FWIW, I drove from Ubehebe Crater to Eureka Dunes in this 20ft Toyota Motorhome at a sustained max speed of 10 mph.  That's as fast as I figured my tires would stand.  On the way out of Eureka Dunes to Lone Pine the road was paved, as you can see here.

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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2008, 12:29:17 AM »
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Hi, New poster here!

  I might just add that the Titus Canyon trip is only one way...leading into Death Valley,

Jerry
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=168506\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Jerry, you mean you can only come into DV on Titus canyon? Any additional information would be great.

I actually have two people wanting to go back in February. We're bringing a full sized Toyota Tundra outfitted with top mounted spin off tires and racing suspension with 3" of lift. We're gonna do it right this time. I figure with our driver and his truck we can make it from the beginning of the dirt road in DV to ED in under 45 minutes. In his words, "We'll rally that road." He was intrigued by the landscape in the images I brought back. Although not a photographer, he is an avid environmentalist and outdoors man, and he really wants to go. The other friend is a photographer.

I'm wondering if anyone know what time the winds pick up? I don't want to go when the wind is blowing everyday. I also don't want to go when it gets over 90 or so. I also don't want to freeze to death again--lol.

I'm interested in the Lone Pine Route. I figure you can come in from the north on that road almost all the way to Eureka Dunes? If so, then that is definitely the way to go. I'd even bring my truck again that way, since the road is only several miles of washboard from the pavement.

However, the Lone Pine road was not open due to snow. Do you know when it clears enough to use that route?
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« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2008, 09:04:21 AM »
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Jerry, you mean you can only come into DV on Titus canyon? Any additional information would be great.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=168516\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
As for Titus Canyon, Jerry is right: the road is one-way heading west (entering DV). It becomes two-way just after you exit the canyon, so it is possible to drive to the canyon entrance from inside DV, but then you need to park and walk into the canyon.

We did the Titus Canyon road late last January in a rented SUV, and it was indeed spectacular all the way. Weather was perfectly dry our whole trip, so we encountered no flash flood worries. At that time the condition of the Titus Canyon road was good enough to navigate with a regular sedan, but I think it's foolish to go anywhere near DV without a high-clearance vehicle. Also, do check with the rangers about road conditions, which can change drastically in a short time (there were other canyon roads we turned back from, because we didn't have four spare tires with us    ).

We skipped the northern parts this time (Eureka Dunes and the road to the Racetrack) since there was so much else to see in our ten days farther south (Stovepipe Dunes, Zabriski Point, Golden and Mosaic Canyons, Titus Canyon, Artist's Drive, Badwater, the dirt road that runs south near the western side of the valley, and a couple of unnamed canyons).

Next trip: Eureka, etc. Great place.
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« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2008, 09:06:58 AM »
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I'll speak of for Jerry, though I'm interested in his insights on Titus, too.  It's a one-way road through the canyon, entering at the top outside the park from Hwy 58 near Rhyolite in Nevada and emptying out into the valley.  It's been my experience that the more often you stop and hike away from the road both as you approach the canyon and once your in it, the better the better the photography.  Some of the best photography is to be found before you actually enter Titus, early in the morning in the ridges leading up out of the flats into the pass that demarks the canyon entry, at least as far as the road is concerned.  Down in the canyon, if you're interested in the vegetation you'll find solo palms and even an occotillo or two in the vicinity of the old mine.

As for "rallying" the road to ED, keep us posted when you're going to be there and we'll stay away.  Our approach is the opposite, slowing down and making frequent stops along the way.  We take all day to make the drive, enjoying all the country along the way.  I bet we never get much above 15mph.  Starting early you get the morning light for a couple of hours, then spend the middle part of the day exploring the middle section, and finishing the drive in the good light of afternoon and evening. Just a different approach to washboards, but easier on the vehicle and the body.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 09:09:52 AM by Hank » Logged
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« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2008, 04:23:22 PM »
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I totally agree with Hank on both the quality of stuff you encounter before you actually get to Titus Canyon, and on the value of taking it all slow with frequent stops.
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« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2008, 10:15:59 PM »
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clip
As for "rallying" the road to ED, keep us posted when you're going to be there and we'll stay away.  Our approach is the opposite, slowing down and making frequent stops along the way.  We take all day to make the drive, enjoying all the country along the way.  I bet we never get much above 15mph.  Starting early you get the morning light for a couple of hours, then spend the middle part of the day exploring the middle section, and finishing the drive in the good light of afternoon and evening. Just a different approach to washboards, but easier on the vehicle and the body.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=168561\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Hank, actually, I would like to see if I could get some images right off the road in late evening or early morning, now that you mention it. The bed rock is very interesting and the washouts could make for some good photography. After looking my images over, I see much more opportunity to do many different things that I did not see before. On the other hand, there is something about doing the dunes with all the time I have to give them, which means getting to the dunes in 30 minutes, and, perhaps, hiking to the first top of the dunes and hauling equipment and camping gear to the top, then spending the night on top of the dunes. The problem with getting dune shots is that you really can't explore them without marking them up. With that said, we'll probably be there from late January till April, so please do stay away and leave them all to us!

I think you have sold me on Titus Canyon. I really want to do that now. What time of year have you been, you know, weather and etc?
« Last Edit: January 21, 2008, 10:17:06 PM by dwdallam » Logged

Hank
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« Reply #18 on: January 22, 2008, 12:04:50 PM »
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Now you've got the spirit of Death Valley!  The place kind of gets under your skin, and each trip leads to another.  Probably reflecting too much about me, it can take 5 or 6 visits to one location to get things "right," even if I don't get around to tripping a shutter.

Here's another idea for the dunes:  We spend a lot of time "dry" camping in the remote corners of the desert, sometimes staying for days in one spot without seeing another soul.  ED is prime for that.  Just bring along about 2-3 gallons of water per person per day.  When no one else is around we often find it better (and certainly more comfortable) to "stage" gear overnight at walk-in locations, allowing us to make long predawn walks more easily while still allowing us to enjoy the comforts of our main camp.  That wouldn't prevent you from rolling out a sleeping bag rather than returning to camp, but it certainly helps with the age-old conundrum of backpacking a full camp along with a full spread of camera gear.

While they wouldn't be useful in the dunes themselves, we usually bring along a couple of bikes for easier access to areas around camp, which allows us to leave the truck unpacked in camp.
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« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2008, 12:49:01 PM »
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Love this thread - and Death Valley!

Thanks,

Mark



(pano from Zabriskie Point)
« Last Edit: January 22, 2008, 12:50:36 PM by markhout » Logged

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