Thursday, May 8, 2014

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley Trip Report

The suspension on my wife's VW Jetta was getting a real stress test as I bouncing through brain-jarring wash board on Eureka Valley road in Death Valley National Park. The rocky ten mile long track is known for shredding tires and is probably best suited to 4x4 trucks. I'll probably be in trouble when she reads this, because before leaving I had promised I wouldn't leave the pavement.

On my previous four wildflower photo trips to Death Valley I had been skunked by drought conditions, and the timing of infrequent storms did not produce good results. My expectations were probably unrealistically high considering that the first two visits to the park were in 1998, and 2005, both of which were "once in a lifetime" El Nino blooms. So when I saw a friend's photos online I knew I had to act immediately. Like a California ice climber, the photographer's best piece of equipment is a fast car. The blooms are ephemeral and won't wait for late comers.

Eureka Dunes, one of the largest in the US, is in the remote northern section of Death Valley and best accessed from Big Pine in the Owens Valley. The drive from where I live in Sonoma County is about ten hours and I only about 36 hours to get there and back. I loaded the car friday evening and left the house first thing Saturday with wife and dog in tow. We had to drop off some prints at Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, so did that and got a hotel Saturday night. The next morning I got up early and drove alone out to the dunes while Arienne caught up on sleep. I'd only have a couple hours to make images.

The sunrise came and went as I bounced along the road at an agonizingly slow pace. Ga-dunk, ga-dunk, ga-dunk! The drive was tedious but when the fields of flowers began appearing around me I knew it was worthwhile. The desert was alive!

Fortunately there was some cloud cover, so the sun didn't just glare into the scene with a bald sky. This gave some precious time to find a few nice landscapes where the plant densities were most concentrated, and I knew there would be time to shoot closeups after the clouds blew over.

I was frantically wandering around vast fields of flowers, with stunning beauty in every direction. While this may sound blissful, it actually caused a fair a bit of stress because I was short on time and the light was changing fast. I had to tear myself away from some beautiful scenes because it just wasn't possible to take every shot. All too soon the time was up.
The drive back on the terrible road seemed to take even longer now, because I was running late. Finally I hit the pavement and hauled ass back up over the pass, enjoying a magnificent view of the Palisades and Sierra Crest as I sped toward home. This was my first trip to this part of Death Valley and I'm sure I'll be back to spend more time at a less hurried pace.

-Jerry Dodrill


juliana juan said...

It’s a nice trip report about the visit of Eureka Dunes. I also visited there before bus philadelphia nyc tours. It's a long way to go to just look. If you are planning on climbing dune it is totally worth going. Such an unusual sight. A huge sand dune hidden among mountains. Be warned the road is not friendly to the family minivan. It was really something to see after a bunch of typical desert scenes. Your flower images are really nice and attractive. I must want to appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

Your pictures of the wild flowers are awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

your pictures of the wild flowers are awesome. Thanks for sharing