Dispatches,  Featured,  Nature

Dispatches: Death Valley National Park & The Alabama Hills

Wildflowers rise from a rocky hillside in the badlands of Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Wildflowers rise from a rocky hillside in the badlands of Twenty Mule Team Canyon

 

[nectar_dropcap color=””]L [/nectar_dropcap]ast month, I flew out to Las Vegas for 3 nights of photography. It had been a long while since I took a trip dedicated to photography! As a new father, my world turned upside down and I found it to be much harder to spend extended time away from home. Every moment is so special and I find it hard to be away to miss even the slightest thing. But being out in the environment and doing photography helps me clear my head and mind when the rush of life overwhelms me. Taking the time to travel and explore is worth it for me.

I had considered several locations but settled on Las Vegas and Death Valley National Park. This was because of the really convenient flight out there and the fact that wildflowers were seeing a rare superbloom that hadn’t seen for 10+ years. But a day before I arrived at the park, a massive windstorm swept away the most prominent patches of wildflowers. No worries… I still had myself a great time.

I tried to stay flexible and free during my 4 days/3 nights in the area. I used a great field guide for Death Valley by Ron Coscorrosa and Sarah Marino that helped me triangulate on locations to hit. Though it was a blast, I think I stretched myself a little too thin and across too many places! I started further east at Death Valley, took a 1.5 day excursion west to the Alabama Hills, and circled back to Death Valley before departing. A lot of driving, a lot of hiking, a few beers, and even fewer hours of sleep — and these are the shots I have to show for it.

All in all, it was a really great trip. It helped that I was able to stay in contact, for the most part, with my wife and baby back home. Google hangouts from Alabama Hills – the best of both worlds being in an alien-like, grand landscape but still connected to those I love back home.

Sunrise highlights textures and shapes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Sunrise highlights textures and shapes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

 

As for Death Valley itself, honestly, the first day or so underwhelmed me. I was wondering what the appeal was of this much-discussed National Park, where mud flats and distant mountains were the most prominent features. However, as I spent more time at the park, its subtleties and more grandiose parts of the environment showed themselves to me. The park itself is massive – so making a rush call on its entirety based on one location and evening was mistake #1. Also, it’s a place for all its scale that is so different from mile to mile. Take for example the Cottonball Basin or Panamint Playa, both of which I spent an evening photographing. As an outsider, I took for granted the formations in the salt and mud playas that were so distinctive in shots I had seen from this place. In truth, finding those photogenic locations is extremely difficult. After 5 hours searching on Panamint Playa across several square miles (hiking and by deplacing by car), I found a section I liked but not nearly as deep or graphic in nature as I had sought. It became clear to me that hikers and photographers have spent hours, days, weeks, months combing this park for gems that can be found with time and effort. And finding those gems was not only a photographic accomplishment but a true sight to behold.

Just this vignette about Panamint Playa reflects my thoughts on the park — there is so much diversity that can be found in relatively small spaces within this massive park. One really just needs to spend the time to find it. Couldn’t the same lesson be applied in most life situations?

On to the images. I am usually one to say “quality over quantity”, but in this case I find myself with almost too many images for 3.5 days. Nonetheless, each speaks to me in a different way and also serves to tell viewers about the different aspects of Death Valley National Park and the nearby landscapes in the Eastern Sierras. What an amazing stretch of natural beauty in this earth!

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This article was originally published on Navin Sarma Photography.

All images © Navin Sarma. You can see more of his work on his website and Instagram. You can also follow him on Facebook andTwitter.

Dispatches is our occasional look outside of DC at the places local photographers have traveled. Have a set of photos you’d like to feature here? Contact us at editor@dcfocused.com.

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Stars shine brightly over a pathway of cracked mud at Panamint Playa
Stars shine brightly over a pathway of cracked mud at Panamint Playa

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The endless cracks in the mud at Panamint Playa resemble lizard scales
The endless cracks in the mud at Panamint Playa resemble lizard scales

Navin Sarma was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area. His experiences traveling the world in his early 20s prompted him to begin landscape photography. Since then, he has been producing large fine art works of unique, dramatic, and dreamy landscape photographs from Washington, D.C. and around the globe and teaching photography to artists at all levels. You can see more of his work onNavin Sarma Photography and Instagram.

One Comment

  • Mike Lennett

    This is awesome. I almost feel sorry that you had such a short time there. The way you mention taking the time and effort to get what your looking for is inspiring.