Death Valley photography is sure to excite anyone interested in landscape photography. The stark and colorful landscape is quite varied. Death Valley is a large National Park, and has many distinct areas. Perhaps best known are the salt flats around Badwater, the lowest elevation spot. Another frequently photographed feature is the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. The first day I was there, though in November, was 94 degrees. In summer it is brutal, and some spots like Golden Canyon are simply ovens.
Sunrise and sunset are key times in the park, and the various dunes (there are about 5 sets in the park) are great places to witness a sunrise. Mesquite Dunes are located very close to Stovepipe Wells, where the best restaurant and gas station are located. It is easy access. Eureka Dunes are 43 miles off the main road (one way) and much of that gravel, but they are worth the trek. Eureka Dunes are very tall, being second only to the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. I got a number of shots at Eureka by being there at sunrise and watching the sun slowly drift across the landscape.
It is allowed to park and explore just about anywhere in Death Valley. Much of the valley is so wide open and flat, it would be nearly impossible to get lost. You can see your car beside the road. Interesting salt formations and mud formations are located off the West Side road. The best cracked clay I have seen was on the south end of West Side road. Obviously, salt and mud formations are transitory and depend a lot on rain or lack of it. But you are sure to find interesting patterns and formations if you hike and look around.
Death Valley photography is not complete without a sunrise photo from Zabriskie Point.. The opening photo of this blog is from there, and you are sure to see the morning sun light the rocks on fire if you are in place with the other photographers for sunrise. There were maybe 10 people in November. A peak weekend might get crowded, but there is plenty of room. Death Valley is the opposite of Yosemite. It is uncrowded and welcoming so long as you are prepared for the temperatures. Should rain be in your forecast, recognize that flash floods are a significant danger and may also strand you with your road cut off.
I suggest your tour include the Racetrack, where the rocks appear to have moved along leaving a trail behind. Hardly a race, but rain and slick mud can make the flat playa ready and a 50 mph wind can propel the rock and leave the track behind. I can’t emphasize enough the flatness of the expanse of Racetrack Playa. That alone is worth seeing. But it is a long drive in and you should always have extra food and lots of water in your vehicle when traveling in the desert. Like most places this remote, there is cell phone service. Should the playa be wet, stay off. Footprints can last for years.
If I had to restrict my gear on this trip, I’d choose a 70-200mm zoom and a 24-70 zoom or 16 – 35 zoom. Even a 24- 105 should be useful. I used a 200 mm lens to capture Artist’s Point. You can get the scale thanks to the one person I included in the shot.