I recently did a photo tour to Death Valley put on by Pauls Photo in Torrance. Some random notes:
Death Valley is the largest National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres. That makes it larger than several states and one and a half times larger than Yellowstone.
Where to Photograph. With this much land area, the park is full of locations that are popular with photographers, Dantes View, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, Badwater, Darwin Falls, Golden Canyon, Scotty’s Castle (currently closed for renovation). There are also lots of neat photo spots that are just pull-offs from the road. The Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Drive, Harmony Borax Works are of less interest for enthusiasts (OK, the park lists them as “must see”) but they’re all close to the center park area if you have time.
There’s also good photo locations just outside the park boundaries. Just east of the park, the Rhyolite Ghost Town has some cool sights. Going northwest, you can stop at the Alabama Hills area (by Lone Pine) and Mt Whitney.
When to Go. There’s a reason no one in their right mind goes to Death Valley in summer, heat. The temperature’s been clocked at 134 degrees. That’s not healthy for humans or for cars. Quoting the park web site, “Outside activity is not recommended at that time of year.” Aside from being able to fry an egg on the hood of your car, what’s the point? Getting your picture taken with a big thermometer at the Visitors Center?
Photographers should plan to visit in winter or early spring. During winter the nights and early morning can be cold. On our late January trip, the temps were almost freezing on a couple of mornings. And at 4,000+ ft and high winds, Dantes View was painfully cold. So bring your long johns and a warm windproof jacket. But things do get warm in midday so layer.
Where We Stayed. Like all National Parks, Death Valley accommodations and restaurant choices are limited by design. That keeps the locations pristine (and the prices high). The facilities within the park have little motel fridges but no microwave. You can find accommodations at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs — or you can stay outside the park at Beatty, Pahrump, Lone Pine, etc., and drive a very long way.
Furnace Creek is the obvious place to stay at if your a photographer. It’s the closest location for Dantes View, Badwater, Zabriskie Point, and the other stuff in the central valley. Stovepipe Wells is right next to the Mesquite Sand Dunes.
But this year, The Inn at Furnace Creek is closed for remodeling. The Ranch is also at Furnace and is open but it’s also undergoing major remodeling and as a result the restaurant situation in that area is dismal. They didn’t have a fully operational kitchen so the food they did have was mostly salads, burgers and chicken sandwiches — that had been cooked earlier and were served cold. Pizza was the only meal that was edible.
That situation didn’t stop XANTERRA, the parent company, from charging fancy restaurant prices though, ($15 for a chicken sandwich that Macdonalds does better for $4). Things were so bad we drove the half hour to Stovepipe Wells each night to get a decent (but overpriced) meal. So call ahead if you’re planning on staying at Furnace Creek and think about bringing your own food.
That’s it for now.