Category Archives: Photographs: Southern California

Death Valley, Evening

Death Valley, Evening
Evening light on the playa of Death Valley, with lower slopes of the Panamint Mountains rising beyond

Death Valley, Evening. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light on the playa of Death Valley, with lower slopes of the Panamint Mountains rising beyond

Since I’ve been traveling to and around Death Valley National Park for more than 15 years now, I’ve seen a lot of the park — but I most certainly have not see all of it, nor have I completely learned how to see everything in it. This is a huge place, varying greatly by location, terrain, season, weather and more. Frankly, the experience of coming to know such a place over time is one of the things I value most about such locations. While I love to “discover” a place that is completely new to me (and Death Valley was that place in the late 1990s for me), the longer process of learning the place and its rhythms more deeply is also, I think, more rewarding. It is wonderful to see a desert gully in evening light for the first time, but it may be even more beautiful to come back to it and recognize an old and familiar friend.

Along these lines, a few years ago, as I continued to push out my own boundaries of experience and knowledge in Death Valley, I began to think more about how to make photographs of things that I might have not thought worthy of a photograph before. I realized that many of these things that don’t scream “photograph me!” are otherwise a core part of the experience of this place: a vast and quiet “empty” landscape, midday sun, haze obscuring great distances, the edge between the last vegetation and a barren playa, a beam of light slanting across an alluvial fan. And if they are central to the sense of the place, it seems that there must be a way to photograph them. And that is a new challenge for me in my Death Valley photography.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Panamint Range, Reflection

Panamint Range, Reflection
The east face of the Panamint Range is reflected in the surface of a desert pool

Panamint Range, Reflection. Death Valley National Park, California. April 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The east face of the Panamint Range is reflected in the surface of a desert pool

This is a photograph of one of those surprising features of Death Valley — water in the middle of a place that is astonishingly arid. This location is one of the lowest, hottest, and driest places in the Valley, and beyond this pool is a terrain that is particularly inhospitable, the famous salt flats. It is not pleasant to venture out there on a hot and sunny day, when not only is the heat oppressive but the light is so intense on the white playa surface that it is almost impossible to look.

I went here quite early one morning, in time for the sunrise light across the Valley on the mountains of the Panamint Range. In many ways this was not a hugely promising morning. I would have preferred some interesting clouds, though the thing high clouds are not completely uninteresting. It might have been nice to have white salt flats, but the playa had apparently gone so long without rain and had experience enough wind that the sometimes-white salt was quite gray. This little pool, at the edge of the Valley and the base of the tall and rugged hills, mirrored the early morning sky and a bit of the dawn color on the mountains.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dunes and Mountains

Dunes and Mountains
Low dunes and the base of Tucki Mountain in evening light

Dunes and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Low dunes and the base of Tucki Mountain in evening light

This is a different interpretation of a photograph that I have previously posted. Here I have simply tried a different crop, one that eliminates some areas of from the top and bottom of the earlier photograph in order to focus more on the horizontal sweep of the shallow dunes and the more distant wash sloping up to the base of gigantic Tucki Mountain, here in nearly the last light of the evening.

I think that when we are in this place, one of the most iconic in Death Valley National Park, our attention is more likely to be drawn to the tallest dunes, which are located more or less behind me at this camera position. But there is much else to see here, ranging from the intimate landscape of ripple sand and small plants to the rugged slopes of Tucki Mountain just to the south, and including the many long views across the huge spaces of the valley. Here I had been mostly photographing an expanse of dunes leading off toward the northeast, when I turned around to see this view of the edge of the sand, with low dunes curving toward the sparse plant life at their edge.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dust Storm, Dunes

Dust Storm, Dunes
An afternoon desert dust storm obscures sand dunes

Dust Storm, Dunes. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An afternoon desert dust storm obscures sand dunes

Where there are dunes, there will be sand storms and dust storms. The dunes are largely the result of geography that interrupts prevailing winds and causes them to drop their load. When unusually high winds blow through these areas and through dry playas, they inevitably pick up the loose sand and dust and it becomes airborne once again. The immediate effects on a visitor to such places at these times are several. There is dust and sand everywhere — you simply cannot escape it. The night before the wind and sand came through my camp. Fortunately I use a very strong mountaineering when I visit Death Valley since I’ve seen these winds and what they can do. So I used every stake I had, attached stabilizing lines to the tie-out points on the fly, and zipped everything up tightly. I heard the wind and the sand, but my tent was snug and secure. Others were not so lucky (or so prepared?) and all night I heard people outside in the campground trying to tie down flapping tents, recover blowing gear, pound in more tent stakes… or giving up and crawling into their cars. As tight as my tent is, in the morning there was a thin coat of dust everywhere inside.

The next day I headed up into the mountains where I figured it might be less windy. I spent a lot of the time in a deep canyon, and I did escape the wind. In fact, I was pretty much cut off from the outside world — and, therefore, a bit surprised to emerge from the bottom of the canyon into Death Valley to find that the dust was still blowing like crazy. The air was so thick that mountains on the far side of the valley were almost completely obscured, and as I drove south down the valley there were strong cross-winds and blowing sand. I stopped at this slightly elevated spot off to the side of some dunes, put on a long lens (in the relatively dust-free confines of my vehicle) and photographed the dunes, aiming the camera straight into the blowing dust. Yes, this is what a sand storm looks like. (And, yes, I’ve seen worse. Much worse.)


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Hikers in the Badlands

Hikers in the Badlands
A group of hikers is dwarfed by arid badlands terrain near Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Hikers in the Badlands. Death Valley National Park, California. April 4, 2007. © Copyright 2007 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A group of hikers is dwarfed by arid badlands terrain near Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

In the midst of all the recent Death Valley photographs, with this photograph I reached back into the archives to pull up an older image that had not previously made it out of the collection of raw files. Various things impel me to dig back into the older photographs to see what I’ve missed, and in this case it was a random visit to my website that I noted in my server log — someone had linked in to a photograph of some photographers in Death Valley from this 2007 trip. When I saw that I thought to go back and look at that particular photograph and update it just a bit, and then I got side-tracked and wandered off into that raw file collection.

I recall this photograph rather clearly. For some reason I had stopped at Zabriskie point on a morning that I probably expected to produce an exceptional sunrise — at least that’s my guess based on the kind of clouds in the photograph. If I recall correctly, the morning did produce some interesting soft light, but not the stunner that I thought might happen. (I rarely stop at Zabriskie, but I make an exception if the conditions look like they might produce something unexpected — but you never know until you actually go there before dawn and see what happens.) I remember looking down toward Gower Gulch and the trail to Golden Canyon and spotting this string of five hikers. It isn’t that unusual to see people on this trail, but they stuck close together as the wound along its twisting route, and I thought that this might produce some interesting photographs and reveal the scale of this landscape.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dust Storm, Early Evening

Dust Storm, Early Evening
Warm light on sand dunes during an evening sandstorm

Dust Storm, Early Evening. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Warm light on sand dunes during an evening sandstorm

This was a somewhat strange weather day in Death Valley National Park, with thick and deep morning haze, apparently caused by dust storms some distance away from my location, and then the beginnings of a local dust storm later in the afternoon and evening. Since this is a windy time of year, dust storms sort of come with the territory, and I’ve been through a few. They are not a pleasant event, since they manage to work a fine silt into almost everything — tent, car, clothes, and so on. However, they are part of the desert scene and they can provide some compelling atmospheric conditions for photography.

As I crossed Death Valley near this iconic set of dunes, the sun was dropping toward the cottonwood Mountains to the west. The low angle back light obscured and softened the features of the landscape, and the late light was beginning to shift toward the warm end of the color spectrum. From foreground to the distance there is a sequence of layers: the foreground flats with their sparse plant growth, the beginnings of the transverse dunes beyond that, rising to the peaks of Star Dune, and far across the valley the base of the mountains range, whose details are essentially invisible here.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Contemplating the Dunes

Walkers contemplate evening light on sand dunes
Walkers contemplate evening light on sand dunes

Contemplating the Dunes. Death Valley National Park, California. April 2, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Walkers contemplate evening light on sand dunes

The wind had been strong enough the night before that as I lay in my fairly hardcore mountain tent (fully staked out!) I could hear nearby campers pounding in their stakes, rescuing gear than had gone flying, or giving up and sleeping in their cars. The wind continued on into the morning, and as I drove away to a place that I thought might be more sheltered I passed through big blowing clouds of dust and sand. As I returned in the middle of the afternoon there was still a lot of dust in the air and the wind was still blowing, thought its force was diminishing. I went to my camp for a quick visit and the winds continued to die down. By the point when it was time for me to head out for evening photography things had calmed down considerably and I decided to visit dunes.

The large nearby dune fields were in almost pristine condition on this evening, since the wind had kept a lot of people off the dunes and obliterated many of the tracks that folks had left earlier. I selected a part of the dunes where I saw no other people and headed out. The sand was largely undisturbed and I was able to photograph the patterns created by the wind with few signs of human visits. As I worked I looked off into the distance toward the highest dunes where a few people were not returning and walking toward the highest hills. From my position the foreground was a landscape of layered and angled slopes of sand, and in the distance a few people seemed to pause and enjoy the quiet evening among the dunes.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.