Death Valley: Artist’s Palette

Death Valley National Park is a phenomenal study of erosion, weather, geology, sand dunes, salt formations, and huge spring wildflower blooms on rare occasions.

This post covers Artist’s Palette, one of the Death Valley must-see locations and an easy paved drive to get to the spot.

Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).

Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.

I thought the green was copper, but it’s not.

Feature Image Details

Conventional wisdom says to get to Artist’s Palette late in the afternoon on a sunny day.

Throw that advice straight in the ashcan. I took these images mid-day on a rare cloudy day. Note the lack of strong shadows.

Diffuse light with very weak shadows is likely perfect. A professional I ran into told me he likes to go to this spot early in the morning before the sun hits it. I did not try that but it would seem to enhance the blues and greens.

Under direct sun, which I did try, the subtle pinks and light colors wash out.

Overcast days at Death Vallery are rare. If you get one, head to Artist’s Palette.

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

Zabriskie Point

If you missed them, please check out my previous articles.

  1. Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon
  2. Death Valley: Dante’s View Sunrise


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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

2 thoughts on “Death Valley: Artist’s Palette

  1. Hi Mish, I was lucky enough to be at Artist’s Palette while it was raining. Colors popped and I have a 4 foot long pano in my dining room!

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