Happy New Year from Ken Doo Photography in Death Valley, California!

Death Valley, CA is the largest national park (3.4 million acres) outside of Alaska. 95% of the Death Valley area is wilderness area, which provides unique opportunities for solitude and beautiful landscapes. Although the area presents incredible extremes such as the hottest recorded temperature on record in the western hemisphere (134 degees F), it also gets pretty darn cold in the winter months. Despite the harsh environment, Death Valley is also home to some unusually beautiful scenery.  I decided that a trip to photograph the landscapes of Death Valley would be an ideal way to welcome in 2009.   **warning** This blog post is unusually longer than my norm.img_1057-dv-welcome4

I enjoyed daily bone-chilling mornings and evenings waiting for the ideal lighting conditions, often under the cover of darkness with only the stars. Okay, so I really didn’t enjoy the bone chilling temperatures, but I found the lighting conditions at sunrise in Death Valley to be the best for landscape photography.  Even with layers of warm clothing, the cold found its way through, numbing my fingers, especially with any slight wind.  It was difficult to use filters on my lenses, even with the larger 4×6 drop-in filters I use on my Phase 645AF.  Note to self:  bring gloves.

Star trails over the Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley

Star trails over the Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley. Phase 645AF, P45+, Mamiya 35mm, f/4 at 12 minutes.

Many people associate the desert with sand dunes, of which there really are only a few select areas of dunes in Death Valley.

Beautiful patterns and sensuous geometry in the sand dunes at Death Valley

Beautiful patterns and sensuous geometry in the sand dunes at Death Valley. Phase 645AF, Phase P45+ MFDB

During the day, I visited areas such as the ghost town of Rhyolite.  Eerily empty and rundown buildings are set in the backdrop of odd artworks in the background, such as Rhyolite’s “The Last Supper,” seen below.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite Ghost Town

From Rhyolite I drove through Titus Canyon.  The 4×4 trail was laden with snow, and I later learned the trail was closed and had been closed to the public for weeks!

Snowy trail to Leadfield and Titus Canyon

Snowy trail to Leadfield and Titus Canyon

 Rocky trails soon gave way to slush, mud and snow.  The vistas were beautiful and the careful drive well worth the effort. The ghost town of Leadfield marks about the half-way point of the 4×4 trail to Titus Canyon.

Ghost town of Leadfield

Ghost town of Leadfield


…through narrow canyon walls and finally to a view of the valley floor!

Many who visit Death Valley do not make the effort to visit some of the more difficult areas such as the Racetrack, where geologists have yet to explain how rocks (some weighing over a hundred pounds) apparently have slid across the valley floor (playa).  The Racetrack is accessible by 4×4, through a 27 mile trek over harsh trails and treacherous rocks. Flat tires are commonplace and the park service recommends taking two spares.  The Ubehebe Crater sits outside the trail entrance to the Racetrack.

Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater

Below is an image of “Cactus-Man”—who is seemingly trying to warn me off from getting the first of three flat tires on my week-long Death Valley trip.

"Go Back!"

Cactus-Man: "Go Back!"

Too late.  I made it to the Racetrack only to hear a distinct *poof* as a tire blew.  Facing twenty to thirty degree F temperatures in a desolate area and a fast approaching nightfall is a quick recipe for discomfort at best, and potential disaster at worst. The rental 4×4 truck I was driving had not been well maintained and the tires had little tread and life left in them.  Having a temporary spare (which was also nearly flat without air) as opposed to a full-spare is not comforting in the Racetrack area!  When visiting Death Valley and planning to rent a 4×4 vehicle, if you are offered a Dodge Nitro—runRun away!  It’s just not a very comfortable or capable 4×4.  On the trail out to the Racetack, I recall being passed by several  well-equipped Toyota 4Runners.  The Toyotas seemed to glide effortlessly over the rough trail, and I think I noticed one family smiling and singing camp songs as they left me in the dust….   ;  )

Nice temporary spare tire.  I would later change a total of three tires during my weeklong stay!

Nice temporary spare tire. I would later change a total of three tires during my week-long stay!

Huh?  Surrounded by indians?  No, that’s just more cactus-men cheering their flat-tire triumph.

Surrounded by cactus-men on the hillsides

Surrounded by cactus-men on the hillsides

Rocks mysteriously move across the playa. Phase 645AF, Phase P45+, Hartblei 45mm t/s lens

Rocks mysteriously move across the playa. Phase 645AF, Phase P45+, Hartblei 45mm t/s lens

Other areas of note are Badwater, the lowest area below sea level on the continent.  That’s my rental 4×4 in the photo below—yes, we made it back from the Racetrack! ….barely.


Badwater, Death Valley: 282 feet below sea level


The Devil’s Golf Course shown below display the gnarled crsuted landscape of the valley floor, evidencing salt residue left behind by Death Valley’s last significant lake, which evaporated over 2,000 years ago.
Devil's Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course

Special thanks to my best friends, Don and Sandy Libby of Iron Creek Photography, www.ironcreekphotography.com , for seemingly countless hours spent discussing proper panoramic techniques using medium format digital. 

Zabriskie Point Sunrise

Zabriskie Point Sunrise. Phase 645AF, P45+, Mamiya 75-150mm, f/20 at 1/4

 Dante’s View is over 5,000 feet and gives a commanding view of the Death Valley floor.  The white-area that you see in the panorama below is actually the Badwater salt flats, 282 feet below sea level.

Dante's View overlooking Death Valley. The white area is the Badwater salt flats.

Dante's View. Phase 645AF, P45+, Mamiya 75-150, f/16 at 1/7th

You can see my landscape images from my Death Valley trip at www.houseoflandscapes.com (more images to be added soon!).  I have made a separate gallery for Death Valley.  There are also several of my landscape images on display and for sale at Searles Framing, 663 Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey.   My main studio website is at www.kendoophotography.com or see www.carmelphotographer.net or www.montereyphotographer.com

Tech note:  All of the above images were taken with a Canon G-9 except as noted on the image description.  My Death Valley landscape images (on www.houseoflandscapes.com) were taken with a Phase 645AF outfitted with a Phase P45+ MFDB, provided by my friends at Capture Integration, www.captureintegration.com , pending delivery of the new Phase P65+ MFDB.   More later on this exciting addition!


One Response to “Happy New Year from Ken Doo Photography in Death Valley, California!”

  1. Ken – Beautiful! Now you gone and made me rethink my next trip … okay I’ll have to wait abit as the next 3 trips have already been planned. How ’bout same time next year?


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