Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunset in Death Valley

 by Steve Reiss (Dalmdad Landscape Photography - and

May, 2009: We were somewhere near nowhere on a hard gravel road in the back-country of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, when it was seen
This oasis image taken at Ash Meadows is for sale at our online gallery on 16" by 20" canvas. 

I have been told this is a gopher snake.  When we saw it slithering across the road, we had no clue as to what kind of snake it was or whether it was venomous.  I am guessing that there are two types of people when it comes to seeing new, possibly dangerous animals: there are those people that run the other way and there are those people that try to sneak closer for a better look.  Unfortunately, I am in the latter group.   

The picture gives a pretty close and detailed view, but I was a safe distance away, using a Nikon 300 mm lens and plenty of cropping.  There was just not enough time to swap out the 300 mm lens for the 600 mm we had rented for the trip.  If you are in Orange County, I strongly recommend Samy's Camera in Santa Ana. They always have whatever equipment you may want to use but not ready or willing to buy.

Anyway, it was approaching dinner time; our dinner time, not the snake's.  So,we needed to make a dinner decision.  We decided to head from Ash Meadows to Pahrump, NV to see what we could find.  Furnace Creek is the place to stay in Death Valley (unless you are camping), and the place to eat in Death Valley.  However, options are very slim in the Furnace Creek Area (population 24 and decreasing).

I guess we expected too much from poor little Pahrump (population between 36,000 and 42,000 depending on the source).  Pahrump was briefly in the national news when ex-Madame Heidi Fleiss  announced she was going to start a brothel in Pahrump that catered to women.  While her brothel plan was abandoned, there are still two active "conventional" brothels in Pahrump (Chicken Ranch and Sheri's Ranch).

We drove back and forth down NV160, Pahrump's main drag maybe two or three times, eliminating the fast food choices and hopelessly searching for something better.  There was nothing better.  So, we wound up at a buffet at one of the casinos in town; I forget the name of the casino all these years later.  The casino was not the typical Vegas-style casino.  It was not even the typical Temecula-style casino.   It was more like how I remember a mid- 90's Cherokee, North Carolina-style casino.  The Pahrump casino is probably glad I forgot its name.  Comparison to a mid-90's Cherokee, North Carolina-style casino is not great advertising.  All I remember of a mid-90's Cherokee, North Carolina casino is a lot of cigarette smoke, a prefab building or two, and an Indian in full tribal clothing demanding money to take a picture with him.

Despite my attempting to make the Pahrump casino buffet sound horrible, it was not.  First, we were charged $9 for the two of us, just for joining their preferred club (we knew we would never be back).  Second, the buffet had some of the best braised BBQ short ribs I ever had in my journeys to 47 of the 50 states.  I think that was all I ate that evening: ribs, ribs, and more ribs.

After dinner, we made the left off of NV160 onto Belle Vista Road and headed west out of Pahrump and towards Furnace Creek – a short 61 mile hop!  It was not long before the sky started to dazzle.

At first, we just thought it was going to be a simple color show.

How wrong we were!

The sky started showing off; becoming more and more dramatic until "forcing" me to pull over and take pictures.  There would have been no way to rightfully call myself a landscape photographer if I let this sky go undocumented.

A print of this dramatic sunset in Death Valley is available for sale at our online gallery.
Do you think the clouds look like a dragon, horse, or sea-horse?

During the first of photograph stop, when I got out of the truck my first surprise was the weather.  It was not scorchingly hot and there was actually a cool, comfortable breeze.  The breeze was comfortable enough that we shut the a/c and drove with just the windows open.

We reached Death Valley Junction (DJV), which is eerily empty enough during the day without a dramatic sunset throwing off wild colors.   We have passed through DVJ a number of times and it seemed on each trip through to be a ghost town.  We knew of the Amargosa Opera House, which dancer and artist Marta Becket had ran since she arrived in DVJ from NYC in 1967.  But still, the only live thing we ever saw in DVJ was a roadrunner running across a concrete slab, and that was back in 2005!  While doing some research for this post, I came across a very good movie, Amargosa, about Marta and DVJ.  Even if you are not especially interested in Death Valley, I highly recommend the movie.  Considering the movie showed the opera house, hotel, and wild burro preserve were all active to some degree, I remain surprised to have never actually seen anyone in DVJ. 

After passing through DVJ, we quickly noticed something.  No, the road did not lead us to some secret military base.  The outside temperature began increasing-- rapidly increasing.  Indeed, the a/c quickly went back on.  The temperature was going up faster than the sun was going down!  This is probably because Pahrump is at an elevation of 2041 ft and Furnace Creek is at an elevation of -190 ft.  As an example, the typical temperature difference between Dante's View in Death Valley (5475 ft.) and Badwater in Death Valley (-282 ft) is a whopping 25 degrees F.

CA190 swung northwest as we approached Furnace Creek.  We passed Dante's View Road, where earlier this morning we did the whole sunrise watching thing --getting up at 4:30 am and making the drive to Dante's View (maybe we will post about this another time).  As we approached the Badwater/Furnace Creek turn-off, it was now officially a scorcher.  Despite the scorching temperature (Furnace Creek holds several temperature records such as 134F on 07/13/1913), I got out to take the last of the day's pictures.

How can a lot of heat detract you from the "big picture"!
Ash Meadows is part of Death Valley National Park and contains several oases and an interesting mix of animals.
If you would like to read a more comical, but fictional piece, about golfing in Furnace Creek, please read our posts at DesertUSA named: Who's Kidding Who: Part One and Who's Kidding Who: Part Two.

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