Tag Archives: fall

Canyon Narrows

Canyon Narrows
Twisting narrows in a desert canyon, Death Valley

Canyon Narrows. Death Valley National Park, California. April 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Twisting narrows in a desert canyon, Death Valley

On a late spring day of wind and sand storms in Death Valley National Park — and after several days of such conditions — we retreated to one of the deep and narrow desert canyons for an afternoon. After a short walk across the upper edges of a giant alluvial fan, we dropped into the lower reaches of the canyon and headed uphill. Soon the path entered the base of the range and the walls began to narrow, and the wide open world of the desert floor was invisible to us.

The canyons of Death Valley are in some ways similar to the more famous slot canyons of the Southwest. Both are formed by water coursing down narrow canyons, sometimes at high rates that rearrange the geography of the canyons significantly. But there are differences. Here the canyons are most often dry — a year round water supply in such Death Valley places is not typical. And the rock is not the familiar red sandstone of the Southwest, but here a more contorted and broken and often less colorful rock. But sections are very beautiful, and there is something very magical about this section of this canyon, as it narrows and passed between inward curving walls.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Photographer, Desert Canyon

Photographer, Desert Canyon
Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in a Death Valley canyon

Photographer, Desert Canyon. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in a Death Valley canyon

Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell paying attention to the small things along a narrow canyon in Death Valley National Park. On a cloudy day with dust storms out in the valley we headed up this canyon in the afternoon and found quiet conditions following this narrow canyon as it twisted and turned its way up into the mountains along the east side of the valley.

We started our hike at the top of a monumental alluvial fan build of rocks washed down from the mountains through this canyon. We dropped over the edge into the main wash and headed uphill, with the canyon walls soon closing in around us. In many places the canyon walls are almost vertical and only feet apart. These are places of deep quiet and stillness, mostly cut off from the surrounding terrain, protected from the wind, and with only a narrow band of blue sky straight overhead.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Canyon, Contorted Formations

Canyon, Contorted Formations
Contorted geologic formations along a narrow desert canyon

Canyon, Contorted Formations. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Contorted geologic formations along a narrow desert canyon

Almost inevitably, one’s first impression of Death Valley National Park is that of huge open desert spaces, with salt flats, occasional dunes, and vast alluvial fans surrounded by rugged and arid mountain ranges. These things are impressive — that scale of the landscape reminds me of visits to The Yukon and Alaska — and the fact that roads run though and past them helps make them seem central. But with time to explore a bit more, it becomes clear that there is more to the landscape than first meets the eye. Among these features are the uncounted canyons that thread their way into the mountain ranges.

We visited a few of them during this year’s spring visit to the park, including this one that we hiked into one afternoon. The terrain of these canyons is remarkable variable, ranging from shallow and open to very narrow with vertical walls. This spot fits somewhere in the middle — the walls here are indeed very high, but they tilt back a bit from the vertical and allow a bit more light down to the gravel wash at the bottom. This particular section especially impressed me with the wildly contorted layers revealed in the cliff above. This spot is near the bottom of one of the ranges in the “basin and range” geology of the area, and the old strata are twisted and folded in all directions.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Desert Canyon Hiking

Desert Canyon Hiking
Hiking down a narrow desert slot canyon

Desert Canyon Hiking. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Hiking down a narrow desert slot canyon

We (Patty and I) spent some good time in Death Valley earlier this spring, hiking and photographing in many interesting places in Death Valley. This trip brought some, uh, “special” weather on almost every day: huge dust storms, strong winds, rain, you name it. On a couple of days we escaped into narrow desert canyons, where the steep walls cut off most of the wind and produce the stillness and quiet that are so special in these places.

The hike into this canyon began along the upper edge of one of the giant alluvial fans that spread out into the valley from the lower ends of almost all canyons at the base of the desert mountain ranges. We hiked across to a wash, dropped in, and headed up into the canyon, replacing the expansive views of the giant valley with the constrained and intimate views of the interior of the canyon. In a few spots this canyon became quite narrow — never close to a squeeze, but narrow enough that we could not see beyond the next bend.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Narrow Canyon, Hiker

Narrow Canyon, Hiker
A hiker passes through a narrow section of a desert canyon.

Narrow Canyon, Hiker. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A hiker passes through a narrow section of a desert canyon.

Almost anywhere you are in desert country, canyons can be attractive places on days that might not be so enjoyable out in the open. They are often protected from wind — and in Death Valley, at least on this trip, that also meant protected from dust storms. Their light is frequently appealing during midday hours where many other locations are experiencing harsh flat light —  in canyons the midday light can reflect down among the canyon walls and look beautiful at almost any time of day. They can also be cooler, with high walls that protect from the hottest sun.

Between morning and evening photography we decided we would take a hike up this canyon — not the most popular in the park but not the least visited either, so we shared the experience with some other hikers. The approach to this canyon took us across the lower face of an arid mountain range, then dropped into a wash and started to ascend, with tall canyon walls quickly ascending both sides of the canyon. In places this canyon is impressively narrow, and everywhere it is very deep. While it has some of the water-formed features that are common to all such canyons, these Death Valley canyons have a rugged and rough-hewn character that is quite different from that of the popular Utah canyons.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Central Valley Trees and Fog

Central Valley Trees and Fog
Late autumn trees and fog, San Joaquin Valley

Central Valley Trees and Fog. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Late autumn trees and fog, San Joaquin Valley

I have had my eye on these trees for several years now. In fact, I have photographed them a few times, though I wasn’t quite happy with the results. They stand near a spot that I frequently visit during the late fall through winter months, when migratory birds live in the nearby wetlands and fields. In fact, that is why I was there on this December day. After a couple of hours of bird photography I looked over in the direction of the trees and thought that the light might be right for a photograph.

The light in this part of the Central Valley is astonishingly variable, especially in the winter and near-winter months. There can be high thin clouds, a Pacific weather front, general haze, or fog so thick that you can’t see 100 feet… unless you look up to see the stars and the moon! This day was quite variable, and that was part of the fun of photographing it. Fog was forming when we arrived before dawn. It stuck around a while, thinned and morphed into a sort of general atmospheric haziness. Above the fog there were high clouds that also muted the light a bit. Here and there, actual fog banks formed. This photograph has a little of all of these things: the light on the trees is muted, fog banks stand in the distance with high clouds overhead.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Blue Hour, Wetlands

Blue Hour, Wetlands
Late autumn evening clouds reflected in wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley.

Blue Hour, Wetlands. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Late autumn evening clouds reflected in wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley.

I have become a passionate photographer of winter migratory birds in California’s Great Central Valley, and I spend as much time as possible out there between late fall and the start of spring. For most of my life I was almost completely unaware of the great migration that takes place just a couple of hours east of my home and midway between there and “my” Sierra Nevada. For a few months this valley that seems primarily like farmland (at least to us coastal folks) for the rest of the year becomes a wildlife haven.

But it isn’t just about the birds. The birds may be the main draw, but they are certainly not the whole show, and the landscape itself fascinates me, especially with its surprising and varied effects of atmosphere and light. The ubiquitous fog creates mystery and the clouds of winter weather fronts produce beautiful skies. The dusk ending of a day out here rarely fails to produce some twilight magic.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.