Because of the park’s vast size, long driving times between locations, and the short duration of my stay, I concentrated on the two most central areas of the park known as Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. These two areas, separated by roughly 40 miles, are located near many of the park’s popular features and offer lodging, RV and camp sites, food and automobile services. Furnace Creek includes well known sites such as Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View and Badwater.
The Tallest Points in the Park
Zabriskie Point offers one of the park’s most spectacular and well known panoramic views of the park’s valley, badlands, mountain ranges and multi-colored rock formations. Because it is located only a short distance from the park’s largest accommodations and restaurants (called Furnace Creek), it is another of the most visited destinations. Unfortunately, during my visit the area was closed to visitors due to road construction.
Only a 20 minute drive south of Zabriskie Point however is my most favorite panoramic location in the park called Dante’s View. Located over 5,000 ft. (1,524 m) in elevation and easily reached on a well paved road (although hair-raising at times) road, the overlook at the top is breathtaking. You can easily take photos and see stunning views right from the parking lot or while hiking along one of two trails. From the right location you can simultaneously view the Badlands (the lowest point in the US), Telescope Peak (the highest point), and the colorful Panamint Mountain Range. Dante’s View is a great place for early morning and late day photography. The two photos above show two of my most favorite early morning shots.
The Lowest Point in the Park
An area called Badwater is one of the most visited locations in the park. The reason is because, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level, it is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. During the summer with temperatures reaching as much as 124° F (51° C), it is also among the hottest. Featuring stairs and wheelchair accessible ramps that take you quickly from the parking area to a wooden deck that overlooks the valley floor, it is also one of the most easily accessible destinations in the park.
Badwater is the site of an ancient lake whose remains appear today as a vast area covered with salt deposits and elaborate cracked patterns in the earth formed from dried salt crystals. While most people spend a few minutes on the platform to observe the area and photograph before leaving, the best photography is to be had by venturing out into the salt flats. The image below showing some of the cracked salt patterns was made after hiking about 15 minutes into the valley floor and just moments after sunrise. Early morning is the best time to photograph in Badwater. Here is one of my early morning images.
This past month I had the opportunity to spend several days photographing in Death Valley National Park. Because of both upcoming art exhibition that I need to prepare for and a photo shoot in the Southern US, this series on Death Valley will be more condensed than usual. Doing so will allow me to post it quicker and provide some information to those readers who indicated they were planning upcoming trips to this park within the next few months.
While the majority of Death Valley National Park is located in Southern California, a small portion of the park is situated in the state of Nevada. As the largest national park in the continental US, it contains 3.4 million acres (1.4 million ha) and spans 5,219 square miles (13,518 km²). And, to put that into perspective, the distance between the southern most feature in the park known as Saratoga Springs and its northern most feature called Eureka Dunes is 180 miles (290 km) and requires over 4 ½ hours of drive time.
Although popularly thought of as only a barren hot dry desert, this area is filled with great beauty and in some areas of the park, winter temperatures below 20º F (-6.6º C). The wide range in temperatures are also due to the great difference in elevations found within the park that range from the highest point called Telescope Peak at 11,043 ft (3,366 m) and shown in the photo above, to the lowest elevation in North America, called Badwater, which sits 282 feet (86 m) below sea level(see photo below).
Because of the park’s geographic location, its nearness to surrounding mountain ranges and habitually clear skies almost year round, I found that the best times for the type of landscape photography I do was roughly 60 minutes before and after sunrise/sunset. During these times the colors of the landscape and its features are especially warm and the shadows are soft. After that, the light becomes intensely bright which causes the colors to fade and the features flatten.