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Visit Death Valley National Park

COMPLETED BY 11

LISTED 46

Although I can’t hear you through the computer screen (the technology for that isn’t quite there yet), I’m betting your answer had something to do with absurd heat, dunes, or miles of barren land. Maybe it skewed more comically towards tumble weeds, steer skulls, or frying eggs on the ground. The park does itself no favors with its name, which doesn’t exactly evoke mental images of rainbows, vibrant gardens, unicorns, and the like. (Admittedly, “Death Valley” is a pretty legit name.)

I’ll be honest, when someone first told me about taking a photo trip to Death Valley National Park, my first thought was a mix of heat, sand, and nothingness. Why would anyone want to photograph that? Heck, why would anyone want to experience that?! However, since it’s my goal to visit each of the 59 US National Parks, I “had” to visit Death Valley once, if only so I could cross it off my list.

I could not have been more wrong about Death Valley National Park. It’s not all about death and nothingness–note even remotely so. There are gorgeous hikes, beautiful views, other-worldly landscapes, iconic historical landmarks, and even life. Really. It may not have rushing rivers, waterfalls (plural–as there actually is one waterfall in Death Valley!), and lush forests, but Death Valley National Park certainly isn’t as bleak as stereotypes and preconceptions might suggest.

Okay, I’ll admit: there is a lot of barren land and huge sand dunes. However, I guess I didn’t realize just how awesome sand dunes are. Several movies have shot in Death Valley. You might be familiar with a little film called Star Wars: A New Hope. Well, numerous shots in that were filmed in Death Valley National Park. Tatooine basically is Death Valley. I’m pretty sure most children dream of walking to Mos Eisley Cantina, and you can make that dream a reality in Death Valley National Park (minus actually stepping inside Mos Eisley).

Seriously, though, sand dunes are way more impressive to walk in person than I ever expected. During my first visit to Death Valley’s Mesquite Dunes, we hiked about a mile into the dunes while it was dark, not really able to see much along the way. I was absolutely mesmerized when the sun broke the horizon, casting a warm glow over everything as the dunes themselves sharply contrasted with shadow and light. This ranks as one of my all-time favorite moments in a National Park, and put the Mesquite Dunes on my list of top places to shoot the sunrise and sunset.

Then, there’s that barren ground that I assumed was just a grassless expanse of lifelessness. This is such a reductionist, closeminded view of the ground, and the Badwater, Devil’s Golf Course, and Salt Creek quickly taught me this. Each of these areas were different from one another, and brought different photographic opportunities–and challenges–to the table. Right now, a shot of the Salt Flats at sunset after the rain is actually on my photo bucket list. I don’t fancy photographing “nothingness” so I think that speaks volumes to just how intriguing of a subject it is.