Monday, April 5, 2010
INTO THE MILD - Conclusion
March 21 - I have never regretted being an early riser. There is something almost holy about going out into a world still mostly asleep and catching the first deep lavender makings of dawn on the eastern horizon. There is an optimism about starting a new day. And there is opportunity for us shutterbugs who need to catch that first, golden light.
And so it was with me. I was packed and out of the campground before sun up. As I proceeded south along the eastern edge of Death Valley, I watched that first light hit the top of the Panamint Range, highlighting the snowcapped Telescope Peak (at 11,000’+ the highest point in Death Valley). I had sixteen miles between me and Badwater so I took it slow and easy on the curvy two-lane road. Along the way, I saw my first Death Valley wildflowers, a large array of brown-eyed evening primrose. When I finally pulled into an empty Badwater parking area, I was the only human anywhere in sight. and the lighting was just about as perfect as I could wish for.
There were only two minor logistical problems. Due to resource damage from the hordes of people who now regularly descend upon the salt flats here, the National Park Service built a raised boardwalk several years ago which allows for a decent view of the lowest point in the United States but intrudes itself into the reflecting salt pools. Furthermore, there are several emphatic signs admonishing visitors to not get off of said boardwalk. This makes capturing the classic morning view of the pools well nigh impossible anymore. With a bit more thought, the boardwalk could have been more optimally placed but such is sadly not the case.
Well, I am an early riser. And there clearly was not another human being within several miles. So I gingerly stepped off the boardwalk and trod as lightly as I could to a point where I could capture that fabled reflection of the Panamints in the salt pool. By squatting at just the right spot, I was able to lose the boardwalk off the left hand frame and get a close approximation of the picture I had wanted so badly....not perfect by any means but still pretty impressive. I have to point out that I was not being cavalier about this because I am an ex-ranger and feel somehow privileged to break park rules. But sometimes regulations need to bent just a little bit if one knows that no real damage is being done.
I rattled off several frames before returning to my car and continuing the long, leisurely drive toward Jubilee Pass. Along the way I was treated to more patches of primrose, and great sweeping vistas of salt flats, standing water reflections, fat green creosote bushes, and broad alluvial fans swooping down from the Panamints. I gloried in the quintessence of Mojave desert as I climbed over Jubilee Pass toward Shoshone. I was so energized that I ended up driving all the way to Kanab, Utah that night and all the way home to Grand Junction, Colorado the following day.
Behind me I had put the haunting hoodoos of the Paria Plateau, the snowy stretches of Zion’s east rim, the mysteries of Wash #5 in the Valley of Fire, the almost incomprehensible wildflower displays of the Carrizo Plain, and the craggy crescendo of Death Valley itself. In between were the quirky cafes, cheap hotels, bucolic towns and abandoned homesteads that enhanced the journey. And most of all, I got to feel the warm sun I so desperately missed through the long Colorado winter. And as I write this, the skies are once again clouding up and threatening more rain and snow. God bless the Mojave and the Great American deserts! Long may they remain!