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A virtual tour of Death Valley - by Laurent Martres

NOTE: this exhibit appeared in August 1999. Click here to visit the current showcase.

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Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Begin your tour at Zabriskie Point early in the morning, as the first rays of the sun illuminate the Manly Beacon and the soft pummice badlands below. If you start too early, you'll have a large shadow area on your image, but if you wait too long, you'll loose the fantastic contrast and warmth on the badlands. It's only 1.7 miles from here down to the Valley and it makes for a pleasant walk down with a car shuttle.
Note the little clouds stuck in narrow canyons on the other side of the Valley.

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek

Back at Furnace Creek for breakfast, you can stroll through this extraordinary palm tree oasis. An incongruous sight in the middle of this very inhospitable desert.

Artist Palette

Artist Palette - A.M.

Going south on the Badwater Road, you soon encounter the Artist Palette loop, where colorful minerals grace the landscape. This site is suitable for both morning and late afternoon photography. Here is an early morning shot, with the colors of the various ores really popping. The Artist Palette road also provides very good open views of the valley floor.

Artist Palette

Artist Palette - P.M.

This is an example of the warmer colors you'll get in late afternoon. The very warm light has a tendency to "burn" the ocres and burry the colors of the minerals. The more you wait and the more you'll lose the colors. Don't wait until Sunset. Artist Palette is not a sunset shot, because the sun will be hidden behing the Panamint Mountains well before that.

Devil's Golf Course

The Devil's Golf Course

Back on the Badwater Road, your next stop is the Devil's Golf Course, with its rugged crust of hard salt. It is an excellent early morning shot.


Badwater Pond

The pond at Badwater is the lowest point on the American continent. It offers many opportunities for creative photography at all times of the day and in any weather. Be careful not to include footsteps in your photos.


Badwater Salts Flats

Wandering just a short distance from the Badwater Pond, you'll find yourself alone on the immense salt flats. If it's sunny, be sure to compensate the exposure by 1 to 1-1/2 stop.

Stovepipe Wells

Stovepipe Wells - Large Dunes

The large sand dunes at Stovepipe Wells are an awsome sight and can be photographed both early in the morning and late in the afternoon. To photograph vast expanses of dunes without footprints, you'll need to walk about a mile North from Hwy 190 to the farthest dunes.

Stovepipe Wells

Stovepipe Wells - Small Dunes

Unless you come after a storm, you'll be hard pressed to photograph the large dunes without footprints. Try the little dunes instead. These are located about a mile Northwest of the Stovepipe Wells air strip. There is no trail, but it's an easy walk. You'll get beautiful little sand dunes, up to 30 ft. in height, and you will most likely have the place to yourself.


Ubehebe Crater

The spectacular Ubehebe Crater, near Scotty's Castle, is always very windy. Be sure to bring a tripod and a wide-angle lens. It's an ideal picture for the panoramic format.

The Racetrack

The Racetrack

The Racetrack is a dry lake bed or "playa", stretching for several miles in the heart of the Panamint Mountains. It can be reached by passenger car from Ubehebe on a long and very rocky road. If you are an experienced four-wheeler and conditions are right, you can also reach it from the Saline Valley, but talk to a ranger first. In this shot, taken with a 17mm lens, I had fun stretching the "playa" with the dark rocks of the Grandstand in the background.

The Racetrack

Sliding Rocks

At the southern end of the Racetrack, you'll encounter an area strewn with large boulders leaving sliding marks on the playa. This interesting phenomenon occurs after a rain, when the lake bed becomes extremely slick and strong winds push the rocks over long distances. Do not go immediately after a rain or your footprints would mar this pristine landscape.

Eureka Sand Dunes

Eureka Sand Dunes

At the Northwestern edge of the Park, in newly acquired federal land, lie the beautiful Eureka Sand Dunes, the highest dunes in California. It is a very remote area, with very little visitation and your're likely to find no footprints if you wander around far enough up the dunes.

Panamint Valley

Panamint Valley

Going back to Furnace Creek from the west, you traverse the awsome Panamint Valley and encounter a large and very accessible "playa" with good opportunities for shots of cracked earth. If you like to walk, the Panamint Valley also has lovely sand dunes. You can see them in the distance, to the north of Hwy. 190.

Telescope Peak

Telescope Peak

One last look at Death Valley, with snowcapped Telescope Peak in the background. From Valley floor to the summit, it's more than two vertical miles.

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About the Exhibit:

Summer is certainly not what we would consider a prime month for visiting Death Valley, at least not here in North America. It's an entirely different matter for European and Asian visitors, who seem to relish the ferocious summer heat as part of the experience. Death Valley has become somewhat of a cult trip, because its barren universe is so far removed from what most Europeans and Asians are used to. A place where one can't survive on its own. An almost mythical place, bigger than life.

I thought it would be both useful and entertaining to have another virtual tour of one of America's great National Parks. I hope this brief visit and the photographic advice it contains will spark the imagination of our foreign visitors.

About the Photographer:

Laurent Martres is the author/piublisher of Land of the Canyons and the principal animator of the web site.

Find photos of the Colorado Plateau in Land of the Canyons, the Photo Trip USA landscape photography guide book.

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