After a nice sleep in the FJ on my custom made shelf/bed unit, I started out toward the Racetrack Playa. My plan was to stop by Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater on the way. The weather was nice, mid 60′s and not a cloud in the sky. I didn’t need gas because I had gone to Furnace Creek to fill up on their over priced gas the night before.
The drive to Scotty’s Castle is pretty easy. It’s all paved roads in the north end of the valley. There were plenty of signs that the rain the week before had been harsh with lots of spots on the road that had evidence of mud/debris flows. None of them would stop traffic today, but during the storm there could have been problems. And fortunately, it was a weekend because they were doing LOTS of road work where they would shut down the road for long periods of time to get something done. The fortunate part? They don’t work on weekends.
Scotty’s Castle was built by a Albert Johnson, a millionaire from Chicago who had invested in Walter Scott’s non-existant goldmine. Mr. Johnson visited “Death Valley Scotty” several times to see the mine and on one of his trips he brought his wife who fell in love with the area. She insisted on building a nice little place to stay because she wasn’t about to stay in the tent with the rest of the men. The result is what is now known as Scotty’s Castle. The last shot here is a panorama, something that I wanted to start trying while in Death Valley.
The Ubehebe Crater is an ancient volcano crater that is about 5,000 year old. The road to the crater was closed and I just didn’t feel like walking. So, no go.
The road to the Racetrack Playa was nice. Dirt, not super rough, and LONG. 32 miles long. The scenery was gorgeous and the weather great. I stopped once when a couple of cactus on the side of the road caught my eye.
The FJ was pure joy to drive on this road; almost like it belonged there.
FJ in the Desert
After 22.5 miles, the first stop was Teakettle Junction. The junction is a sign that people attach tea kettles to. I have NO idea how this tradition started, but it did live up to it’s name. There were over 50 different tea kettles attached to the sign. Most of them were signed and dated. I really wish I had remembered to bring one, but…
FJ at Teakettle Junction
Another 9.5 miles later, I arrived at the Racetrack Playa. It was under water. Or most of it was. The moving rocks are all located on the south end of the playa and it was completely wet. You do NOT walk on the playa when it is wet because you will leave footprints that won’t go away for many years.
North End of Racetrack Playa with the Grandstand on the Right
South End of the Racetrack Playa Under Water
The north end of the playa was dry enough not to leave tracks, so I went to find a campsite, take a short nap, and wait for dusk. The road between the campground (if you can call it that) and the playa was one of the worst I have ever seen. Washboarded to the point that there was NO speed that you didn’t feel like your teeth were going to fall out.
I think that due to the rain, there were no tracks around any of the rocks, but that wasn’t a problem. I was there to shoot star trails with the rocks and the grandstand in the fore ground and I spent the next two and half hours, from 7-9:30, standing in the middle of the playa taking pictures. I run into two gentlemen from Salinas Valley (I think), after talking to Sreekanth he was unfortunate and had his Nikon D90 go down and it hadn’t been returned before his trip so he was using a point & shoot for his star trails. I didn’t get a good look at his image, but he seemed fairly satisfied with some of his images.
I was trying something new here; star trails. This is the first image that I put together from several images. I don’t like it too much for several reasons. First, the foreground is boring because there was a new moon. It was PITCH black outside so no details in the image. I did take a couple of shots during the blue period that I used to give the image some foreground interest. Not great interest, but better than nothing. Second, I didn’t follow the primary rule when doing something new: Don’t try to learn it when you need it; learn it before so you are ready when you need it. I thought I knew how to use the camera’s intervelometer, but I was WRONG!
Star Trails Over The Grandstand on The Racetrack Playa
I will be attempting star trails in the future. I have to work out some of the kinks. Ok, not kinks, more like huge knots.
After finishing up, I drove back to the campsite, had dinner, and went to bed. I had some exploring to do the next day.
To view all of the images from Death Valley click here.
Posted 3 years, 9 months ago at 8:19 am. Add a comment
The intent was to spend three days in Death Valley exploring the land, taking some pictures, and testing out the new FJ. I thought that being in the winter, it wouldn’t be very crowded and the fact we had a storm go through the area so I thought that there would have a sky full of clouds for the pictures I planned to take. In addition, the backcountry roads would be great to drive on; muddy, but safe. Everything went according to plan. Except the timing.
I started out early morning, stopped in Barstow for supplies, and arrived in Death Valley at about two in the afternoon. My first stop was going to be a short drive in Twenty Mule Team Canyon, but when I got there it was closed due to mud slides. Ok, not a big deal. I drove up to the top of Titus Canyon. Nope, closed due to mud and debris in the canyon.
It was now almost five and while coming back from the Titus Canyon I saw the next site, the Stovepipe Wells sand dunes.
Stovepipe Dunes from Titus Canyon road.
It was fascinating to see from a distance. When I got to the spot I wanted to take my images. The first spot was in the Devil’s Cornfield where I could get a view of both the plants and the dunes.
The second spot was closer to dunes where I could walk out into the near dunes and take pictures there. From both sites the views of the dunes were amazing.
Stovepipe Dunes at Sunset
Stovepipe Dunes at Sunset
While walking out toward the dunes, I got the chance to shoot some of the detail in the sand.
I spent that night in the Stovepipe Wells campground and woke up early to start day two.
All of the Death Valley images can be seen here.
Posted 3 years, 9 months ago at 8:32 am. Add a comment
Ok, not really, but it sure seemed that way.
I took a quick trip to visit and explore Death Valley over the long President’s Day weekend. The idea was to explore the national park, get some shots of the landscape, and kind of get a lay of the land so I could go back and visit with a more definite plan what to shoot next time I visit. I also wanted to take my new FJ Cruiser out and test what it out on some of the backcountry roads.
We had a major storm go through California on the Tuesday and Wednesday the week before and I was excited by the possibilities of some great clouds in the sky over the areas that I had researched before going.
I was wrong. I got to DeVa and it was mostly closed. The rangers had list of roads open had 15-20 different backcountry roads and other points of interest on it; only five of them were open.
Apparently, the rains the week before had dumped over an inch of rain in one night. Death Valley is not the environment to handle an inch of rain in a 12 hour period. It is a desert, the water doesn’t soak into the ground very quickly; it just runs off downhill. The park flooded. Every road that I drove on had signs of the rain.
Mostly debris and dirt that had washed from the sides onto the road, but some of the roads showed major damage. Apparently, those that were located in some of the canyons got undercut and/or covered in several feet of mud. The surprising thing was that the dirt roads, if they weren’t closed, were just fine for the most part. The disappointing part was that there almost wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
After revamping the itinerary, the trip turned out better than I expected. After I had eliminated some of the spots that I wanted to visit and rescheduled some others, I had a great time, got some great shots, and tested the FJ in some pretty good conditions. The FJ could REALLY use a bath right now and it will get one sometime in the very near future.
I will be posting some of those shots here in the VERY near future. I know it’s been over five weeks since I posted here, but it got kind of busy recently and I have since made a resolution to post at least three times a week.
I did get the opportunity to use what is becoming one of my favorite iPhone apps, AutoStitch. You use your iPhone to take pictures for a panorama and the application does a GREAT job of stitching them together into a very usable image.
I took two of Scotty’s Castle in the northeast corner of the park and one of my campsite near the Racetrack Playa.
The clock tower and generator room.
The courtyard in Scotty’s Castle.
The view from my campsite near the Racetrack Playa.
I also got to use the video camera on the iPhone a few times. The only one that is worth seeing is this one. After viewing it, you might be able to understand why the FJ needs a carwash. To see the video, click here.
You can see the results of the drive through Death Valley mud.
Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 1:52 pm. 3 comments