The Bones of the Earth

Grapevine Mountains badlands

Grapevine Mountains badlands

We visited Death Valley this January, camping for five nights at Furnace Creek. With moderate temperatures in the winter this national park is a popular destination for tourists, especially on weekends therefore it is wise to make reservations ahead of time.

 

Eroded formations near Zabriskie Point

Eroded formations near Zabriskie Point

Eroded foothills of the Amargosa Range

Eroded foothills of the Amargosa Range

Death Valley National Park is a landscape photography mecca. I was well prepared for my first visit since 1990, having purchased an excellent e-book guide for the park, as well as having drooled over many fine photos made by various other photographers in books and on-line over the years. The dry hills are fantastically eroded by wind and, ironically, rain. It’s one of the driest places on earth with very little vegetation. The valley floor has weird formations created from mineral laden water that flows into the valley but has nowhere to drain and quickly evaporates. Years ago the famed California photographer Galen Rowell made reference to ‘the bones of the earth exposed’ when describing an image he made in Death Valley.

 

Cottonball basin- salt and mud patterns caused by  evapouration from an endorheic pond

Cottonball basin- salt and mud patterns caused by evapouration from an endorheic pond

US Desert Landscape

As I drove the park roads (it is an enormous place to visit) I was immediately attracted to the brown hues in Death Valley, seen in eroded hills and mountain ranges, sand dunes, hardpan and in more intimate abstract images of the basins in the valley floor. Brown is a colour emblematic of earth hence the term ‘earth tones’ we often see referred to in home décor and fabric descriptions.

 

Mesquite Sand dunes- hardpan mud tiles

Mesquite Sand dunes- hardpan mud tiles

Mesquite Sand dunes- hardpan mud and sand

Mesquite Sand dunes- hardpan mud and sand

Photographers often search for more vibrant colour like red, orange and green. As I write this I bask in the warm glow of several hundred images made during the northern Ontario autumn, where reds, oranges and golds predominate. But in Death Valley I found that brown, while more restrained and less vivid, certainly symbolizes the ‘bones of the earth’ on display.

 

20 Mule Team Canyon

20 Mule Team Canyon

Eroded foothills of the Amargosa Range Artists Drive with creosote shrubs

Eroded foothills of the Amargosa Range Artists Drive with creosote shrubs

Please enjoy this selection of my images celebrating the colour brown as it is found in many of the landscape formations in Death Valley.

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon

Cottonball Basin polygons at sunrise

Cottonball Basin polygons at sunrise

near Mesquite Sand Dunes

near Mesquite Sand Dunes

Amargosa Range badlands

Amargosa Range badlands

About Dawns _Images
I (Don Johnston) am a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Lively, Northern Ontario. My work is represented by All Canada Photos (Victoria), agefotostock (Spain), Interphoto (Germany), PhotoEdit (USA) and Alamy (England). I am widely published in books, magazines, calendars as well as advertising media and decor. My personal stock photography website www.donjonstonphotos.com has over 10 000 images in galleries plus a search feature. Like many other nature photographers I am self-taught beginning with film in the 1980s and continuing through the 21st century with digital. I taught high school biology for thirty years, retiring in 2003 to pursue photography full time.

4 Responses to The Bones of the Earth

  1. Barbara J Hettinger says:

    Don, your photos are fabulous! As always! Thank you so much. I have never been to Death Valley. best wishes, Barbara

  2. Ed Wyrwas says:

    Fabulous captions Don , really enjoy your photography , thanks so much for sharing !

  3. Jeremy says:

    Donald I love your sunrise shot of cottonball basin. I’ll be visiting Death Valley and have cotton ball basin on my radar. How do I find that place? Do you know mile markers or gps coordinates? How far did you have to hike out ?

    • Thanks Jeremy
      I do not have exact mile post markers or gps coordinates but this area is not difficult to find. I bought the excellent guide to Death Valley by Coscorrosa and Marino http://sarahmarinophoto.com/desert-paradise-death-valley/ and used it to find features like this. The area in question is roughly 5 miles (8-10km) north of Furnace Creek on the left (west side) as you go north on the main road. Park off the main road and look in to your left. In daylight you will likely spot the saline pools in the distance but these polygon formations are actually about a mile south of the pools. I got there by mistake, having made a note of the milepost but got mixed up. The numbers are different on each side of the highway. You need to hike in about a km or so maybe more. Before sunrise take a headlamp. The area is very delicate and footprints will abound sadly, but I tried to follow other footpaths and not break new ground in the muddy areas around the pools. These polygons are more stable. Decent running shoes should be all you need. Around the pools, consider rubber boots.

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