Death Valley Impressions

The harshness of the midday light does not normaly lend itself to pleasing photographic results. But on one of the days we were there, a storm blew in and threatened the desert.

In fact it appearted to rain for a while - but the rain never reached the ground. More satisfying for us was the fact that the normaly clear sky was at times populated by clouds, and at times completely occluded under grey thunderclouds. Together with the use of a polarizing filter, this resulted in being able to take some pictures in the middle of the day that contained some color and could reflect some of the textures in the desert.

Some of these pictures were influenced only by a few clouds scudding across the sky - others were strongly dominated by dark threatening skies and accompanying wind.

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High Noon
In The Desert


High Noon in The Desert


Heading out across the desert - suddenly the wind comes up and within half an hour the normaly clear blue sky is completely covered with grey storm clouds. Rain would appear to be imminent, and in fact is falling from the cloud layer - but on this occasion it never reaches the ground before the liquid drops evaporate again to humidify the air.


HABOOB - Wind in The Desert

Despite the storm overhead, the ground remains dry, but a strong wind is kicking up a dust storm. The terrain where we are is fairly rocky and we are not really bothered, but a few miles down the road, dunes are being moved and reshaped. We could have had our car completely sandblasted for free in preparation for a new paint job.


As we head to the very bottom of the valley, the storm clouds to one side of the valley are breaking up - they remain threatening on the other side


Devil's Golf Course

Close to the lowest part of the valley we come across the Devil's Golf Course.

When it rains here, this flat area turns to mud and the dirt swells with the water.

Then as the midday sun blasts it, the water evaporates so rapidly that the shrinking mud dries into these convoluted shapes - barely visible is the topping of crusted salt on each lump.

Like many pictures on this page, I used a circular polarising filter to control the brightness of the sky. Depending on the angle of the sun, it was more effective in some directions rather than others. Here we are looking North towards the left-overs of the storm.


Looking South from the same spot, there is no cloud cover and the angle of the sun is different so the polarizing filter has little effect. As a result the lighting appears completely different. We see the effect of midday glare controling the colors.


We continue to the lowest point in the valley. A salt pan stretches into the distance to where there is a lake with water in it.

Covering just a few acres and only inches deep, this is the final destination for all the rain that falls into this watershed - encompassing the surrounding mountains and side valleys that all lead to this low point - an area of many 1000's of square miles.


Walking out toward the salt pan to seek the water. This place is called Badwater for a reason. As a Pioneer trekking across this desert, however thirsty you might be, drinking this mixture, that is saturated with a myriad of chemicals and their salts, will do you more harm that good.


Half way out to the water's edge, we turn round and look back to where the car is parked.




The water is just inches deep with small sub-surface canyons in the mud, which will become rivulets should the water level drop even further. Higher points that have already been exposed above the receding water level are covered with a crust of crystallized chemicals.


Driving back, the shadows of the remaining storm clouds leave a mottled pattern on the mountains and valley floor.


After an hour or so, only a few scattered clouds remind us of the rare storm that passed this way.

If it dropped enough rain in the mountains, then some of the resulting waters will rush down the slopes, collecting multiple streams into the dangerous torrent of a flash flood, but then diminishing as it crosses the parched desert, leaving trails of erosion to remind us that it once was here - if only for a fleeting moment.


High Noon
In The Desert