Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Sunrise at Zabriskie Point; leaving Death Valley and driving back to Napa Valley

The first rays of sun hitting the western flank of Death Valley I woke up way before sunrise, and headed back into Death Valley from my motel in Beatty. The goal was to get a sunrise picture anywhere in Death Valley, although I was planning to get a few decent shots in early morning light at Zabriskie Point.

I had just taken the Beatty cutoff from Daylight pass road when the first shades of red appeared in the clouds. Shortly afterwards, the mountains forming the western flank of Death Valley were illuminated in red, while the valley floor was still dark.

I made it to Zabriskie Point just as the sun disappeared behind the clouds. Up until then, I hadn't seen it in the sky yet. There were maybe ten photographers already present, all of them equipped with tripods and cameras of varying sophistication. I setup my tripod too, but contrary to them also took a number of landscape shots - that is, take several pictures while turning the tripod head from left to right.

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, with Manly Beakon on the right and Death Valley in the background Some photographers were getting frustrated at the lack of direct sunlight and leaving, but one guy loudly announced that he was sure the sun would eventually appear from behind the clouds. I decided to trust his judgement, and he turned out to be right.

I got a couple of good shots of Manly Beacon, a remarkably shaped peak a short distance ahead in the Zabriskie badlands; and also got a few nice shots of the badlands themselves.

After a short chat with some tourists - one commented that she liked my camera, the other remarked that I was wearing sandals in comparatively cold morning air... this was because my shoes were still wet from yesterday's hike and I preferred no shoes to wet shoes.

The sun vanished again after a while, so I headed north. I still stopped at Mushroom Rock and at Badwater; and was appalled at what the National Park Service has done in "improving" Badwater - it's all fenced in now, and the boardwalk prevents pictures of a Telescope Peak reflection in the water next to the road... I'm guessing it's a good thing that people can't trample everywhere and are "guided" through the more fragile parts of the park, but then again, putting up boardwalks everywhere makes this a bit less of a national park, and a bit more of Disney Land...

I exited Death Valley via the west, and eventually found myself on Highway 395 North. The drive up to then was mostly uneventful, but I couldn't help but notice that there were considerable amounts of snow on the surrounding peaks.

A fresh layer of snow at Mono Lake When I arrived at Mono Lake, I could see that its coastal areas too were covered in snow. This would be a nice photo opportunity, I thought; so I stopped even though I still had a lot of mileage to cover that day.

I headed on a short while later, and soon found myself crossing the Sierra again. The snow on either side of the road increased, even though the road itself was mostly clear. I didn't really think the roads would be slippy, until I came across a car in oncoming traffic that had slipped, and crashed into the snow bank. I began to be more conscious of the snow, and the fact that my rental car probably had all-season tires at best, and summer tires at worst.

At one point, I stopped for a hitch-hiker - temperatures were probably around freezing, and I thought that I shouldn't let anyone stand outside in that kind of weather, especially not as darkness approached fast. Turns out he was part of a small group that had skied down the wrong mountain, and were now far away from their cars. I dropped him off at a car parking a few miles up the road.

Meanwhile, the snow banks grew higher, snow started falling, it got dark; and I discovered I wasn't on the road I should be on. I decided to press on, knowing that there was no way I could possibly drive the entirely wrong way - the mountain pass I had driven over was the southernmost one that was open on the northern part of the Sierra (if that makes sense).

Eventually, I ended up in the Sierra foothills, and discovered that for the last hour or so, I had driven on a road taking me in a southwestern direction, when I should have gone in a NW-direction.

This easily added an hour or two to my already-long drive, but I still made it back to Napa Valley before midnight.

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: ():

Written May 27 2005 in Luxembourg