Death Valley National Park: Part 5

death valley artists palette

A few weeks ago I completed my work at Death Valley National Park in California and am now back in my Ohio studio. I returned home with fond memories, a broken camera lens, and several dozen black and white photos that will need to be developed and printed in the darkroom.

          Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.
               ~ Confucius. (Chinese teacher & philosopher, 551-479 BC)

In preparing for my trip to Death Valley I spent weeks researching and reading over two dozen
books and maps about the park, its history and its geology. And now, after my experience there, here is a list of the resources that I found most helpful and which I can highly recommend in case you plan to visit.


The Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park
by T. Scott Bryan

Best Overall Book: I discovered this book just before leaving for the park and wish I had known about it even sooner. Of the many travel books that I read about Death Valley, this was the most helpful and informative of them all. It covers an extensive variety of topics about the park, its Native American history and history of prospectors and miners, information on its plants and wildlife and detailed descriptions on most sections of the park including maps showing point to point distances.

best_hikes_death_valleyBest Easy Day Hikes
by Bill Cunningham & Polly Cunningham.

Best Hiking Book: If you enjoy walking or hiking to experience the land and nature close-up, this is a great book to carry with you. The 112 page easy to read guide contains clear descriptions and well illustrated maps on twenty different easy/moderate hiking trails within the park. “Best Easy Day Hikes” is a great starting place for anyone interested in exploring more of the park than from what you can view from a car or designated park overlook.

Death Valley National Park Adventure Set
by National Geo. Maps & Waterford Press

This newly published packaged set contains two books in one. The first is the excellent National Geographic Trails Map of the park (described below and which I highly recommend). Also included is a “Pocket Naturalist Guide” with indepth information about the plants found within this region of California.

delorme_caCalifornia Atlas & Gazetteer
Published by DeLorme

If you’ll be hiking, driving or exploring areas of California other than within the park this DeLorme Gazetteer is THE map resource to have. Printed on 11×15.5″ paper, it is an excellent resource for trip planning or for spur of the moment exploration. This atlas contains a whopping 160 pages of highly detailed maps with each map covering an area of roughly 30 by 45 miles (48-72 km). These maps identify major highways, roadways, rivers and streams as well as topographic features to help you navigate the terrain. I rely on these great atlases from DeLorme for all my photo assignments and can highly recommend them.

dv_historyDeath Valley National Park: A History
by Hal Rothmans and Char Miller

Best History Book on the Park: Before arriving at any national park or forest I learn as much as possible about the history of the area, its people and about how/why the park was established. Knowing these things are important because they help me to understand features of the past geology, people, cultures and social/political conditions that aid me in looking more deeply at a park and inform my photography.

death_val_mapTrails Illustrated: Death Valley National Park Map (#221)
Published by National Geographic

Best Map: From many years spent hiking and photographing America’s national parks and its backcountry, I’ve always found the Trails Illustrated series from National Geographic to be the most detailed, helpful and informative maps available. Published on a tear-proof and resistant paper that can be folded and unfolded repeatedly, this full color 4×9″ (folded size) map unfolds to a very useful and easy to read 28×32″ size. In addition to roads and trails, the map identifies campsites and additional points of interest in and around the park.

Other Suggested Reading

Photograph America Newsletter is the best photo-location resource guide around. Bob Hitchman has written this 12-page newsletter four times a year since 1989. Each issue includes great suggestions on photo locations, driving/hiking tips and beautiful photographs of the area. I’ve relied on Bob’s newsletters for years to help plan a trip before I arrive and highly recommend it to photographers and tourists alike. Click here to visit the Photograph America website and Bob’s issue on this park.

  1. at | #1

    It’s good to know you are back home safe and sound Rick. Thank you for taking us to Death Valley National Park with you, your photographs are breath taking and yes, I am runnning out of words to describe them. Good luck with your black and white developing. Hugs for you my friend. x

  2. Lynn
    at | #2

    Lots of great information here. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. at | #4

    Glad you are back home! Thanks for posting the many informational guides and resource material that you found helpful. You’ve made the journey to Death Valley National Park easier for the rest of us, when we decide to hit the road! 🙂

    • Rick
      at | #5

      It’s sure a place worth visiting Lori (given the right timing and season) and my hope that some of the text/posts will help to make others who choose to visit more rewarding. If you go, I hope you’ll send a postcard or post some photos on that great blog of yours. ~Rick

  4. Susan
    at | #6

    Did you get any of those books at your favorite library?

    • Rick
      at | #7

      As my favorite home town librarian for over a decade Susan you’ll be happy to know that I was able to find and read over 80 percent of those books before I purchased the handful that I felt were great and worth taking. Since I was 8 years old, the libraries have always been an incredible source of learning and inspiration for me and it is even more true today as the knowledge I gain from those books informs my photography and weaves itself into nearly all the images I make. Thanks for all you not just for me but for all those you help throughout the community. ~Rick

  5. Susan
    at | #8

    That is so sweet of you to say. You know we love having our own Rick Braveheart photographs at Northside.

  6. at | #9

    I wish I had spent more time researching before we arrived at Death Valley. It’s a remarkable place and deserves more time than we allotted for it, preferably not on a holiday weekend. 😉 I very much enjoyed your take on this fascinating place.

    • Rick
      at | #10

      Thanks Gunta. Research is a big part of my work and always an important task I do before going on a photo shoot. But I’m afraid that’s not always something I do for my own family holidays. And for so many, I suspect it’s a challenge enough finding time for getting away on holiday let alone having extra time to spend reading and researching. For Death Valley I easily spent 3-4 days researching for this one week photo shoot. On 4-6 week long assignments it’s not unusual for me to spend 40-60 hours researching. So to make it easier for others to at least find a book or map that might help in their planning is the reason I create these little resource guides of those materials I found most helpful. I’m delighted you enjoyed this series on Death Valley 🙂 ~Rick

  7. jim brennan
    at | #11

    Excellent resources.

  8. at | #13

    Thanks for sharing great information and gorgeous pictures with us…

    • Rick
      at | #14

      And thanks so much Lor for following along and for taking time to let me know what you think. I sure appreciate it. ~Rick

  9. at | #15

    Thanks so much for this reading material Rick. We are still planning to go in the fall. I loved this series that you did on Death Valley.

    • Rick
      at | #16

      As always it’s my pleasure LuAnn. If you’re planning to go off season (very late in the fall or during the Winter) I’d suggest making a reservation for your RV early. If you have the time, and because of the large size of the park I’d suggest spending a few days in Furnace Creek (close to many popular places to visit) then moving the RV to Stovepipe Wells and spending a few days there.

      Furnace Creek lodging and RV sites are managed by Xanterra ( who, as I suspect you know, operates concessions in many parks. The hotel, restaurant and RV/Campgrounds at Stovepipe Wells ( are now operated by a great, eco-friendly concession company called Ortega Family Enterprises (if you have ever been to Santa Fe you will know their name). The Stovepipe Wells RV sites are just down the road from the sand dunes where I photographed and much closer to other popular destinations in the park like Scotty’s Castle, the Racetrack, etc.

      When you go, don’t forget to send a postcard, or at least post a photo or two on your blog 🙂 ~Rick

  10. at | #17


    Thanks so much for sharing all this information with us! I feel as though I was right there with you. It makes me want to visit Death Valley even more now.


    • Rick
      at | #18

      It’s always a joy to hear from you Nancy and many thanks for following along. Since we both share a love for the outdoors, I’ll say that Death Valley offers a unique experience that’s quite different from most other parks. While it certainly is barren, dry and hot frequently during the year, it also has great beauty, unique light and offers a huge variety of experiences for the outdoor-ist. There are trails to hike, colorful rock formations, mountains, rocks that appear to move on their own and even a waterfall and lake! Just remember to time your visit for kind of weather and temperatures you like. ~Rick

  11. at | #19


    Thank you for sharing your work experiences with us all! We learned more history about our wonderful country, discovered some unique geological facts, have been provided a well-researched list of reference material (not the least of which is this website) and – the icing on the cake – we have been treated to incredible images of Death Valley to savor.

    Hurry and rest up so we can get started on our — uhhh, your next adventure!!

    (A broken lens?? Oh nooooooooooo!)

    • Rick
      at | #20

      And a big thank you Wally for following along on this latest National Park journey and especially for your thoughtful, encouraging and insightful comments along with way. While my work often has me working 18 hour days and living alone in National Parks for weeks/months at a time, it’s having very special folks like yourself whom I’ve come to know by regularly sharing comments and thoughts with that keeps me going and never has me feeling alone. You make a difference my friend and thank you.

      As for the lens, ah yes another one bites the dust. This time, as I was hiking down a section of 20 Mule Team Canyon, the zipper on my camera backpack suddenly broke sending my favorite wide angle lens down onto a pile of rocks. On the bright side, without a wide angle you suddenly find yourself looking even more intently at closeup subjects that you can photograph with the lenses you have available.

      Memories of My Canon 10-22 Lens
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