Death Valley / Mesquite Dunes
Death Valley was the most derelict, uncommon place on this trip. But yet, it was to this place I was anxious to get the most - after the first dunes we've visited along the shore were covered with fog.
The first afternoon didn't go very well. After driving all the way from Yosemite, we got to Death Valley at a perfect time for photographing the dunes. But that was only to find out that we need to go the Ranger Station to get a permit to the park... Some extra, unplanned 40 minutes. By the time we returned, it was almost too late, and there were quite a lot of photographers wandering around, or already situated at a good spot. This made it even harder to find a decent spot to shoot. I got only one shot this afternoon.
There was a full moon that night, so we stayed to photograph the full-moon on the dunes. But in my perspective - it was quite unnecessary... Some say that dunes are magical on a full moon light. Well, for photography... Eh. Full moon or not - the light was faint and required extremely long exposures, on medium ISO, resulting in high image noise. And this seemed completely unjustified, since at sunrise or sunset you get a better light, you don't wander in the dark, and it's much easier to photograph... All in all, the first day at the dunes which I so craved to photograph wasn't something to hope for...
The next morning, however, things changed. I arrived at the dunes about an hour before sunrise, and was completely by myself. Seemed like a promising start... However, since the entire dunes area is open to unrestricted exploration - many of them are already contaminated with footsteps. I didn't want to ruin the area even more, so I decided to use only the trails left by others. I trusted myself enough to see original compositions even if I walked where others have already walked, and besides - dunes change everyday...
As I wondered into the dunes, it seemed that there's nowhere to be found without trails of footprints. The crests were ruined, and so my plan of waiting for the sunrise at a certain spot became less and less probable as the morning sky started to brighten up... Just as the sun started climbing over the horizon, I finally found a smooth dune that I could shoot with the setting moon just above it. I was so frustrated that I was almost ready to settle for that...
It was after this shot that everything has changed. As the sun went up, I kept on walking, and as I walked further into the dunes, the trails became fewer and fewer, until there was only one trail to go with. The best time to photograph the dunes in the morning is an hour or so after sunrise, so I still had some hope... Suddenly I was surrounded by clean, untouched sand. No footprints! I began shooting as I continued walking with the same trail. The final shot required climbing on a steep slope. I stopped just short of the crest, so the other side won't be ruined for other photographers - and the view was stunning. The largest dunes in the area appeared just in front of me, and the shadows made the curves appear like a giant abstract drawing.
I stayed a while longer, and started heading back. It was already hot, and since I thought I'll be returning early - I left my hat at the hotel - and didn't even put on some sunscreen... Just as I left the last view, I noticed some hikers climbed the large dunes, corrupting the last clean crests and slopes. As I passed the moon-set place I shot earlier, another hiker climbed that ex-smooth dune, and left a deep trail of footsteps... Well, now nobody can take the same photos any time soon... ;)
You can see more images at the Death Valley Dunes Gallery.
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