I had a wonderful idea of going back to Death Valley … in summer! It would be nice and warm there (yeah…) and not too many people around (guess why?). Well, both turned out to be mostly true, but not quite as I thought.
I drove over the Sierras via Sonora Pass, passed Mono Lake and turned to the desert from Big Pine. The start of the Death Valley Road was very promising:
Onwards! First camp was at Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, which are one of the highest sand dunes in North America. Tallest dune is almost 700′ (200m) tall from the valley floor. I arrived at sunset, set up camp and hiked maybe one third of the way up to capture the sunset. And a nice sunset it was! And the stars at the night! Un-believable!
I was wrong in one aspect – I wasn’t the only one there. Greg Constantakis had been camping there for several days capturing some pretty incredible landscape shots for his gallery. We decided to hang out together for the next day, checking out the Racetrack Playa. But first stop at the Lost Burro Mine.
An old gold mine abandoned in the 1940s, after over 30 years of operation. It’s reachable by a decent 4-wheel drive up mountain roads better suited for wild burros. But it’s definitely worth it, with most of the buildings still intact and even the mine shaft accessible.
That was fun. After collecting Greg’s Subaru that did not make it all the way to the mine (no burro that car) we continued to the playa itself. Playa, in case you’re wondering, means dry lake bed. It does rain in Death Valley, in the deep, dark winter of January, maybe quarter inch. The water settles at the bottom of the valley on top of the rock hard clay and slowly evaporates, leaving behind a pattern of clay. And at that time, when the water makes the clay slippery and the winter storms blow at over 100 miles per hours, the rocks move.
After enduring the surprisingly cool day (barely 100 degrees) and barely warm night, I headed home via Mono Lake, capturing one last sunrise on my way home.