Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Death Valley National Park
Trip Date: April 23-25, 2004
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: April 30, 2004

The Death Valley trip came off very well in spite of the hot daytime temperatures. The two checkpoint-per-day system worked out very well. I will use this system again for future long-distance trips. Participants suggested that a dawn checkpoint be added for those who are early risers—so noted. For the next Death Valley trip a sunrise checkpoint will be added (making it necessary for the night photographers to stay up all night).

The group met, as planned, Friday night at the Stagecoach Casino in Beatty, Nevada where the prime rib roast was succulent and delicious and the slot machines weren’t so “liberal.” The only machine I played was the telephone and lost $2, since cell phones could only be used as paperweights in Death Valley and the surrounding towns.

Eight persons participated in the trip, Diane Arnett, her husband Larry and myself represented the Milpitas Camera Club.

Four night photographers gathered for the Friday night photo checkpoint at the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada (four miles from Beatty). Shooting progressed from 11 p.m. until about 2 a.m. The ruin of the Rhyolite bank building is considered one of the most photographed buildings in Nevada.

The next day the group met in the vicinity of Stovepipe Wells and gathered at the Mosaic Canyon trailhead for the 3 p.m. checkpoint. We walked up the canyon in the 99-degree-plus heat. The group made a slow ascent up the wind- and water-polished canyon. At the top was a picturesque vista of a multi-colored mountainside. All agreed it was a view worthy of the relatively short, but hot hike. We all clung to the shady sides of the canyon as we rested and talked the camera talk that our non-photographer friends and relatives hate so much. Not one person in our group complained when we stopped to take pictures!

At about 5 p.m. we all took a short drive to the sand dunes near Stovepipe wells to watch the sun set on the dunes. It was a visual symphony of changing light and creeping shadows—in a word, spectacular! After dark we agreed to meet back at the Stagecoach restaurant, which had run out of prime rib by the time we got back.

After dinner the night shooters (all two of us) prepared for a shoot at the Charcoal kilns near Telescope Peak. Departing at 11 p.m. we took the hour-and-a-half journey up the tortuous mountain road to the high shooting site (above 8,000 feet). It was cold and clear at the kilns and the night was dark, since the moon set an hour or so earlier. At 3 a.m. the Milky Way looked like banks of clouds and the stars like scattered diamonds in the sky. I had to stop and drink it all in before I took that long drive back. We arrived back at our rooms by 4:30 a.m. Seeing that amazing sky made the lost sleep all seem worthwhile. There are ten rock and mortar kilns, built end-to-end, very good subjects for surreal pictures.

The last day, Sunday, we met for the 3 p.m. checkpoint at Zabriskie Point, the location of a well-known Italian film by the same name. Zabriskie is close to Artists Palette and the Furnas Creek visitors’ center, both worthwhile side trips. After Zabriskie we took to the high ground of Dante’s View for the sunset. Arguably, Dante’s View may be better suited for a sunrise, but we were still pleased to be watching the sunset from the “wrong” side of the valley. At the higher elevations the flowers were more abundant and the view of the valley was awesome. There was a heavy haze that reduced the usually dark powder blue of the atmosphere against the distant mountains. The sunset provided the context for a round of farewells and a general feeling of contentment.

Thanks to good fortune no one got lost or left behind, no one was bitten or broke limbs and all checkpoints were met. One participant even won a thousand-dollar jackpot in Las Vegas, but I can’t take any of the credit for that happening! At the ghost town the night shooters were terrorized by a small gray cat and Dave encountered a rattlesnake during his morning shoot at Rhyolite. If you go to this website you can see some of Dave’s pictures of the trip:

© 2004 S.R. Hinrichs