Valley of Death - Part III
As we drove 200 miles south we passed many contrastive terrains, from forest to desert to mountain. We pulled over many times to capture the views with our camera sensors. Between the 3 of us we alternated driving every hour to prevent falling asleep at the wheel as we were all exhausted from 3 nights of camping and sleeping in the car the previous night. A hot shower and bed was only about an hour away at a oasis called Motel 6.
Finally, we see the number 6 off the highway. The next 5 hours felt like the best sleep in the world, I admit that when the alarm went off the thought of telling the guys to go without me crossed my mind. But heading into the desert at midnight to photograph the Milky Way was an adventure that I couldn't forfeit. So off we went into the darkness, the further we drove into the desert the hotter it got. Within an hour we had reached 107°F and still had another 30 minutes to go. We finally reached our destination, Badwater Basin, Death Valley, California. The lowest point of North America -282 feet below see level.
It's now 1:30am and the car thermometer read 115°F and once again we were the only car at the trail head parking lot. I turned the car and lights off, complete blackness and we could hear the wind howling outside. We looked at each other, opened the door and stepped into the darkness. We were immediately greeted with a sudden gust of wind that forced us to close our eyes and turn away. First thought was how are we supposed to photograph in these conditions? Suddenly the wind was gone, leaving behind only an eerie silence. And then there was the darkness, a darkness I will never forget, only possible on a moonless night. Our headlamps struggled to light our paths as we trekked towards the vast basin to investigate. The radical wind gusts would come and go sporadically getting worse as we walked further.
Razz took the lead, he was about 100 feet in front of me, I could barely make out the small glow from his head lamp. I was about to yell for him to slow down when a gust of wind almost knocked me off my feet. It was as if a tornado had landed on top of us for a minute and then disappeared. I readjusted my headlamp and pointed it ahead to try to see where he was. I was relieved to see him running back towards me. I noticed the look he had on his face as I asked him if he was ok, he said " Dude, I am over 6ft tall and over 200 pounds, I have never had wind lift me off the ground before". We estimated that it must of been at least a 80mph gust of wind. We looked up into the ocean of stars that floated above us, and noticed dark clouds rolling in. As hard as it was, we made the decision to abort the mission. The gail force winds were one thing but the possibility of being caught in flash flood rains or a dust storm was a risk we were not willing to take. Mother nature had defeated us again. We decided to retreat to the edge of the desert where we'd hope to find calmer weather and clearer skies. We drove about 50 miles back out and finally found a calmer climate. We pulled over and were able to capture some beautiful Milky Way images, and then it was time to head back to the motel.
The next day we headed back into the desert, our destination this time was the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Was a bit cloudy when we arrived which was not a bad thing considering the temperature was already at 110°F, any additional sun would be sure to raise the temperature. We walked far into the sand until we reached some tall smooth dunes. At the top of one we stopped to take a break to admire a 360 degree view of the landscape. The desert had such a barren appearance, a true no mans land. The slight howl of the wind and the silky sound of moving sand filled the air, such an extreme yet beautiful place. And then the sun came out in full force over the desert, ants under a magnifying glass is the best way to describe the heat. It was unbearable, we began trekking back towards the car.
We pulled over a few more times to capture some extreme terrains on our way out of the desert and then began our 3 hour drive back to Las Vegas where we would indulge in some much needed R&R. On our drive back I couldn't help but to reflect on the adventure that was coming to an end. If it were not for photos I might not believe I had been to these amazing places. We went from the tall mountains of Yosemite where thousand foot waterfalls flowed off the landscape, to the barren lands of Death Valley where heat and sand ruled. Such destinations deserved to be seen in person, I tried my best to describe the way we experienced them. This adventure only left us craving more, the world is vast and there is so much to see. For us the next adventure is always around the corner, stay tuned....