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Death Valley 2008 Trip

Day 5 of 5

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Tuesday, February 26th
Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Drive to San Diego

Tuesday morning, 5:45am, my alarm goes off. Ugh. After lying in my bag for a few minutes, I managed to get up and drive straight to Zabriskie Point, arriving just a little after 6am. A few people were there already, including 3 friends with tripods set up. They had their cameras pointed down toward Golden Canyon, and it looked like a good idea so I set mine up in the same general area.

Photographers and tripods at Zabriskie Point waiting for sunrise

Mountains of Golden Canyon and Red Cathedral from Zabriskie Point just before sunrise

Around 6:22am, the first rays of light hit the top of Telescope Peak across the valley. The light slowly made its way down the Panamint Range, ever so slowly. If I had to do it over again, I would have slept another half hour and arrived later. As it was, I had to stand there and wait, along with everyone else. I overheard the three people with tripods talking, and it sounded like they'd done this type of thing a lot. Maybe they were pros.

First rays of light on Panamint Range from Zabriskie Point

Photographer and moon over Panamint Range from Zabriskie Point

First rays hitting the nearby hills

Finally, the light started to touch the top of the hills below us. There's a big light fin-like structure which will be obvious when you arrive, and which got the first rays. Unfortunately, I think it's too bright and the shadows don't provide a good composition (there's one big shadow and not many small ones). I decided I was simply in the wrong spot, and decided to move up to the top.

Panamint Range

View from Zabriskie Point

View from Zabriskie Point

I scrambled up to the top and started shooting away as fast as I could, setting some several different compositions. Only one of the three other photographers was still shooting. I'm not sure why; maybe the other two thought the harsher shadows of the later light would ruin their pictures. While the pictures are definitely not as pretty as the sunset pictures, I was generally happy with what I got.

View from Zabriskie Point

Moon over Panamint Range from Zabriskie Point

I hadn't gotten up early to photograph a sunrise in a long time (since 2002 I think). Being up there was somewhat refreshing. I felt like a photographer again, not someone who mainly takes pictures of his kids and hand holds his camera on hikes because he doesn't have time to set up his tripod. My suggestion to anyone who's interested in becoming a better photographer is to use a tripod. Even if you're shooting at speeds where a tripod won't make much difference in terms of the sharpness of the image, using the tripod will force you to think about composition much more than if you're hand-holding. This is especially true if you're shooting a sunrise or sunset where your window of opportunity is small - you'll want to make sure your composition is set up exactly how you like it so you don't miss it when the light is just right.

View from Zabriskie Point

We packed up our campsite and headed out just before 11am. Our destination today was San Diego, so we had a long drive ahead of us. We took 190 north, then turned left onto Panamint Valley Road. These were the directions that Google had given me, though I should have checked a map for alternate directions. Interestingly, when I ask Google now, it suggests a completely different and supposedly faster route (by half an hour), going south on 190 and around through Barstow. I'm not sure if that's faster (could be), but I'll just explain the route we took.

When I first turned onto Panamint Valley Road, I was worried that it would turn to dirt. It didn't; it was paved the whole way, although there was very little traffic (I can probably count the cars until Trona on one hand). We turned right onto Trona Wilderness Road and followed it to the town of Trona. I had a very eerie feeling passing through the town. If you wanted to make some post-apocalyptic movie, you'd set it in the town of Trona. The first thing we saw as a huge fenced-off dump filled with old cars and construction trucks. Then we saw houses with metal fences around their yards. It was mostly deserted. For some reason it reminded me of the forced evacuation of Devils Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In any case, it definitely looks like a company town, with Searles Valley Minerals being the company. According to Wikipedia, it had 1885 people in the 2000 census, although I'd be surprised if it were that much now.

We eventually joined 395 and took that to 15 and 215 to San Diego. I was worried about Southern California traffic, but we were only delayed about 10-15 minutes due to construction just before San Bernadino. I was struck by how mountainous Southern California is, but how most of the mountains don't have any trees on them. It made me miss the Sierras. In any case, it took us just under 6 hours of driving to reach San Diego. The rest is mostly family vacation stuff so I won't bore you with the details, but I'll share some pictures from the San Diego Zoo and Cabrillo National Monument.

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