Death Valley: Wildflowers, Ashford Mill, Harmony Borax Works, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Sourdough Saloon

This post covers historical sites in and near Death Valley with some additional wildflower images.

Feature Image Details

The feature image is a single shot, not a composite or focus stack taken at Ashford Mill, a former mining town settlement in Inyo County, California.

The next image shows what’s left of the mill.

The original mill at the site was built in 1914 by brothers named Ashford. The ore was processed here from the Golden Treasure Mine 5 miles to the east in the Amargosa Range, and processed for further smelting.

Wildflower displays in Death Valley are few and far between. “Super blooms” occur every ten years or so. I was there for the “super bloom” in February of 2016. As “super blooms” go, this one was mediocre. In a true “super bloom” there are huge waves of purple and yellow and more densely packed flowers.

Yet, compared to the typical year, this display was magnificent.

Flowers in Mud Cracks

Harmony Borax Works

The Harmony Borax Works is located in Death Valley at Furnace Creek Springs, then called Greenland.

After the discovery of Borax deposits here by Aaron and Rosie Winters in 1881, business associates William Tell Coleman and Francis Marion Smith subsequently obtained claims to these deposits, opening the way for “large-scale” borax mining in Death Valley. The Harmony operation became famous through the use, from 1883 to 1889, of large Twenty-mule teams and double wagons which hauled borax the long overland route to the closest railroad in Mojave, California.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is located just west of Panamint Springs via a 2.5-mile unpaved road. There is no formal trail. A mostly-level, one-mile walk to the falls involves rock scrambling and several stream crossings. I would rate it as easy.

This small spring provides most of the water for Death Valley.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

The Rhyolite Ghost Town is a boom and bust story related to gold mining.

The above link provides a fascinating story of a town that went from boom to bust in a decade. It had a stock exchange and a red light district that drew people all the way from San Francisco.

In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. That same year an enterprising miner, Tom T. Kelly, built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.

The Bottle House was restored by Paramount pictures in January 1925.

The ghost town of Rhyolite is on a mixture of federal and private land. It is not within the boundary of Death Valley National Park.

Tom Kelley’s Bottle House

Tom Kelley’s Bottle House Side View

The bottle house is now fenced in with a locked gate. A caretaker unlocked the gate for me one afternoon, but mid-day is not a great time for images. The first image shows the porch in the shade. For the side image of the bottles, I used a polarizer to cut glare from the sun.

Polarizers work best at right angles to the sun, and I am pleased by the overall quality in some brutal light.

Union-Pacific Railroad Car Ruins

Cook Bank

That is what’s left of the once booming Cook Bank.

For the above image, I used a Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens to maintain proper perspective.

Notice the straight lines on the sides. Tilting a lens up to fit things in, results in buildings (trees, whatever), that appear to be leaning in.

Sourdough Saloon

Sourdough Saloon is in Beatty Nevada, just minutes from Rhyolite.

If you want to dine in a smoke-filled ash-heap, be my guest. I found the place intolerable. I took one step inside, then left. Nevada has few smoking restrictions and this is typical.

That said, I love the iconic look of the place. Also, I was very fortunate to have a jeep in front instead of a parade of cars.

I took that image shortly after sunset. The ambient light and the lights of the saloon balanced out nicely.

As a general rule, nighttime images like this often look best 15-30 minutes after sunset.

Equipment List

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

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
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset
  5. Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course
  6. Death Valley: Golden Canyon Sunset and Moonrise Images
  7. Death Valley: Natural Bridge, It’s Another World
  8. Death Valley: Aguereberry Point and Aguereberry Camp – Christmas Eve Fog

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Aguereberry Point and Aguereberry Camp – Christmas Eve Fog

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

Aguereberry Point is one of my must-see areas in the park.

The point’s elevation reaches 6,433 ft and is named for Jean Pierre “Pete” Aguereberry, a Basque miner who was born in 1874, emigrated from France in 1890, and lived at and worked the nearby Eureka Mine from 1905 to his death in 1945.

The road to the top is very rough. The park recommends a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. I took the trip on numerous occasions in a regular car, but you better be comfortable driving in some very unpleasant looking spots, and you better not make a mistake navigating the ruts. I saw two jeeps with flat tires, undoubtedly driving too fast or not paying attention.

The road is a bit hair-raising the first time you go to the top. After you have done it once the next time seems easy or at least easier. There is no place to turn around once you start the climb.

The feature image is from a magical trip on Christmas Eve. It was completely fogged in on the way up, with some snow falling, and I was wondering what the hell I was even doing. Towards sunset, the fog lifted.

There is no view until you reach the top.

Feature Image Details

The feature image is a single shot, not a composite or focus stack.

Here are some additional images. All the ones with fog or snow were taken on Christmas Eve.

The above image is a focus stack of three images. I was inches away from the rock. The stack is at the point closest to me, then in the middle of the rock group, then at infinity.

That image was taken at another time, one Spring.

Don’t overlook the details. There are numerous opportunities for colorful lichens on marble. These kinds of images look best in quiet light. I took that image after sunset.

Aguereberry Camp

Those not interested in taking the road up to the top can make it to the Aguereberry Camp, “Pete” Aguereberry’s homestead, and the nearby Eureka Mine, relatively easily.

The road all the way is brutal deadpan so you must drive slow and watch for rocks. There are no ruts or real danger of bottoming the car if one is reasonably careful.

This is what’s left of Aguereberry Camp.

I took that car image one morning shortly after sunrise. Anyone recognize the car?

Equipment List

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

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
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset
  5. Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course
  6. Death Valley: Golden Canyon Sunset and Moonrise Images
  7. Death Valley: Natural Bridge, It’s Another World

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Natural Bridge, It’s Another World

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 the Natural Bridge Trail, a two+ mile out-and-back round-trip. It’s an easy hike that passes under a natural bridge with views of faults, chutes, dry waterfalls and other formations.

The geologic formations and metallic-hued lava flows are out of this world.

If you only have a couple days in the park, this would not be one of my top choices to visit. But if you have a week, please take the time to explore the area.

Feature Image Details

This is a composite image of two exposures. There is one exposure for the bridge and a second exposure for the background mountains covered in snow.

I purposely did not include sky above the bridge making the shot look more like a hole in the wall rather than a natural bridge.  The feature image is from behind, looking back towards the trailhead.

Here is another view, as one would see the scene hiking towards the bridge.

I have seen the above shot with wild blue, green, and yellow colors. Such images are fakes. The color on the bridge, at any time of day, is simply not that vibrant.

The best part of the trail is towards the end. The metallic-looking lava flows and marble formations do not appear to be from this world.

The trail dead ends at this point.

It’s a relatively easy scramble up that lava flow for a view looking back towards the trailhead. This is what it looks like.

The above image was taken with my Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 16mm.

Blending

Every image in this set is a composite image. By that I mean I took multiple exposures for the brightest and darkest parts of the second and blended them manually, in Photoshop. I use the fewest number of exposures I can get away with. My preference is one.

All of these images were a blend of two exposures. On occasion, I use three.

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

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
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset
  5. Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course
  6. Death Valley: Golden Canyon Sunset and Moonrise Images

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Golden Canyon Sunset and Moonrise Images

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 the Golden Canyon, a three-mile point-to-point trail that is the flip side of Zabriskie Point. The elevation gain is about 613 feet. One can walk a portion of the trail and there are alternative loops instead of going point-to-point and reversing.

We did portions of this trail on numerous occasions. Whereas Zabriskie Point is a sunrise image, the Golden Canyon is primarily a sunset view.

Feature Image Details

The person in the golden garb adds a nice sense of scale. I could have easily edited him out, but I like the effect.

Golden Canyon Full Moon Rise at Sunset

That’s the backside of Zabriskie Point on the right and the Red Cathedral on the left. The moon came up behind a layer of clouds which evened out the light.

To be precise, this was one day before the full moon. The best day to photograph a “full moon” at sunset is one day prior. At sunrise, it is one day after the full moon. The reason is ambient light. On the day of the full moon, it’s too dark.

Golden Canyon Pointed Clouds

I was hiking out of the canyon with my wife Liz and these amazing pointed clouds appeared. The above image was just before sunset. Right after sunset, those clouds turned pink.

Golden Canyon Pink Pointed Clouds Sunset

There were only a few minutes between the preceding two images. I surmise there were very strong high winds moving the clouds around.

The location was slightly different as we were walking out.

Details, Details

There are beautiful rock formations in the canyon. Do not get so distracted from the grand view that you miss these beautiful details.

The camera angle for the above image was straight down.

Note the lack of shadows. Harsh sunlight would have killed the image.

I lingered so long in the canyon after sunset taking pictures like these, that I accidentally happened to be in a perfect spot to get the moonrise image above.

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

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
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset
  5. Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course

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 the Badwater Basin Salt Flats.

Badwater is the lowest point in the US, 282 feet below sea level.

The salt flats in Badwater Basin cover nearly 200 square miles, among the largest protected salt flats in the world. Salt flats are too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, yet are quite fragile. Delicate crystals are easily crushed and the relatively thin upper crust of salt can break through to the mud layer below, leaving tire tracks and even footprints. For this reason, vehicles are prohibited off established roads in Death Valley.

Feature Image Details

Badwater, shown below is the popular stopping spot. You can explore salt polygons at Badwater, but they are trampled flat. To find good salt polygons, you need to park a mile or more away and walk out over some uneven but walkable terrain.

Badwater Sunrise

Badwater typically has a small pool of obviously undrinkable water. The white on the ground is salt. The white in the mountains is snow.

Devil’s Golf Course

Imagine trying to play golf on that surface. The salt is razor sharp. If you fall you will get cut with salt injected straight into the cut.

The above image is the Devil’s Golf Course at sunset with a Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I now recommend the Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens as a new replacement for the 14MM lens. It is the best wide angle zoom lens in the world. Period. Yes, it is very expensive. It is sharp in the corners, little or no astigmatism, or other common zoom lens flaws. At 11-24 MM it is the widest zoom lens around and it is sharp.

These images were all taken at sunrise or sunset, in the Badwater Basin area.

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

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
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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

Death Valley: Dante’s View Sunrise

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 Dante’s View at an elevation of 5,475 feet (1669 meters). It’s an easy paved road to the top, weather permitting. In the winter, the park service may close the road because of snow.

Feature Image Details

This a primarily a pre-dawn shot. As soon as the sun hits the opposite peaks there is enormous contrast. In the afternoon, you will be shooting into very harsh light, if not straight into the sun.

Even more so than Zabriskie Point, do not be late for Dante’s View. Plan to be at the top no later than 30 minutes before sunrise.

You do not need clouds for the image to work. Frequently you can catch the Belts of Venus, pink bands of light just above the horizon as I have in the feature image, but with some clouds.

Salt

That’s not snow on the ground. It’s salt. Dante’s View is a sweeping panorama of Badwater Basin, over a mile below.

Foreground Subject

One of the difficulties photographing Dante’s View is lack of a foreground subject. I took the feature image very close to the parking lot. There are trails, and I scouted them out, but the views do not improve much.

Second Pre-Dawn Image 

If you arrive early, watch the light behind you. The above two shots were not taken on the same day.

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

Zabriskie Point

If you missed it, please check out my previous article Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon

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

One of the “must see” areas is Zabriskie Point.

Manly Beacon is the high triangular-shaped outcrop on the right. Manly Beacon was named in honor of William L. Manly, who along with John Rogers, guided members of the ill-fated Forty-niners out of Death Valley during the gold rush of 1849.

Get to this spot well before sunrise. As soon as the sunrise light hits the Panamint Mountain Range on the opposite side of the valley, the shot will soon be over.

Also, you need clouds for the shot to work. If there are no clouds, try another location. The sand dunes and Dante’s View (both coming up) are better choices if the light is not dramatic.

Feature Image Details

I consider this light to be good quality and the air was clear. I would have preferred better clouds over the Panamint Range across the valley, but the clouds worked nicely as a panorama.

Manly Beacon

That is one of the images in the panorama.

By the time light hits Manly Beacon, the best images were long ago in your camera.

Do not be late for this spot, or for that matter, any spot in Death Valley. Morning light is very fleeting.

Pre-Dawn Image 

In the above image, you can see the light coming up to the SouthEast (Winter). The contrast was intense. I blended two images together in Photoshop.

The advantage of staying high (at the top of the photography area) is that you can shoot in several directions. It may be better to be a bit lower for Manly Beacon but this shot vanishes.

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

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock