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Trip Report (Non dive trip) Death Valley/Jedi Transition/Sierras

Discussion in 'Non-Diving Related Stuff' started by Hoag, Mar 23, 2019.

  1. Hoag

    Hoag Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Ontario
    This trip report has nothing to do with diving, but I thought I’d share it anyhow. I put it in "Non-Diving Related Stuff, but if the mods decide it belongs someplace else, then please move it.

    An old friend of mine, “Butler”, and I try to get out and do a photo trip every couple of years. We are both RCAF vets and have a huge interest in both landscape and Milky Way photography as well as military aviation.

    The Plan:

    The plan was supposed to be simple. Fly into Vegas. Pick up a rental car and drive to Pahrump where we would stay for 3 nights to photograph Death Valley National Park including Zabriskie Point and (one of my goals) the Milky Way over Badwater Basin. Then, we would transition to Lone Pine California to photograph the Eastern Sierra Mountains and a place known as the “Jedi Transition”.

    The Logistics:
    The logistics of this trip proved to be much simpler than we at first thought. WestJet ran an amazing seat sale and Butler and I got great deals on the flight to Vegas. Once there, we picked up our rental car & drove to Pahrump and checked into the hotel. This put us about an hour away from the main areas of the park that we were planning to photograph. Three nights there, then the drive across Death Valley to Lone Pine and then back to Vegas for a couple days before heading home. Reservations for the rental car & all of the hotels fell into place seamlessly.

    The reality of Death Valley:
    There is an old adage that “No plan ever survives initially contact with the enemy”. Truer words were never spoken. Death Valley is famous for being the Lowest, the driest, and the hottest location in North America. There is also a saying that “Timing is everything”.

    On the Tuesday night, the skies opened up in a manner that would have made Noah nervous. Roughly 6 months worth of rain fell in a little over 12 hours. This caused flash flooding, mudslides, and road closures. In fact, entire areas of the park were closed until further notice because of the downpour. Hand in hand with this weather front was a cold front that meant that we still had to wear our ski jackets pretty much every day. (So much for being the hottest and driest place in North America.) It also meant that any plans we had for our photography from that point on went out the window and we had to play it by ear based on where we could go.

    And, just because Mother Nature hadn’t thrown us enough of a curve ball, we had car problems and had to drive back to Vegas and swap out the rental car. (Good thing we couldn’t do any photography that day anyway.)

    The Photography:
    Death Valley Landscapes:

    Death Valley is spectacular. It is majestic. It is massive. It is also humbling.

    After we checked into the hotel in Pahrump, we went up to Death Valley to scout some locations and take a couple pics to get the lay of the land. The next morning, we were up around 4:00am to go to Zabriskie Point to shoot the sunrise. Pulling into the parking lot a few seconds after Butler & I was a pro photographer named Hudson Henry who was leading a photo workshop. (We didn’t know that at the time.) He said to follow him & he would take us to a spot that would get a lot better images that the standard viewpoint would yield. (Hmmm follow a group of strangers off into the dark of night. What could possibly go wrong?) As it turns out, the spot that we were led to was amazing! Just before the sun broke the horizon, one of the photo workshop members yelled “Hey forget Zabriskie Point! Look at the sky over here!” We turned around and the sky was erupting in reds and oranges.
    Death Valley 011.jpg
    The sky just before sunrise at Zabriskie Point.

    Then, our attention returned to Zabriskie Point.

    Death Valley 026.jpg
    Zabriskie Point at sunrise. For an idea of scale, if you look along the left side of the pic, there are two people along the 2nd ridgeline.

    That afternoon, we went out to do a bit more scouting, this time at Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below Sea Level. We got out there, and the sky was well beyond gloomy. It was angry! After about a 20 minute walk across the salt flats, we found the ideal location to shoot the Milky Way if the skies cleared, but we also felt the first drops of rain falling and decided to head back to the car.
    Death Valley 041.jpg
    The angry skies at Badwater Basin (282ft below sea level).

    That was the night that the skies opened up, and we never did get back to shoot the Milky Way.

    Another area that we stopped at (after the roads opened up) were the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. The dunes are about a mile from the main road and we were on our way to the other side of the park, so we didn’t hike out to the dunes. (Maybe next time.)
    Death Valley 053.jpg
    Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. (If you look carefully, there are 4 people in this image.)

    The Jedi Transition:
    The Jedi Transition is a part of what is officially designated as R-2508 Sidewinder Low Level Training Complex. It is an area where military jets can fly at low level (as low as 200feet above ground level) and at speeds of up to 450kts (about 500mph). It is also a canyon, so the 200 feet is measured from the canyon floor and the jets fly through the heart of the canyon at speed. There are only a few places in the world that offer this type of a viewpoint for the aviation enthusiast (the “Mach Loop" in Wales perhaps being the most famous). For the next two days, there was an incredible show as virtually every type of fighter in the US inventory made at least one appearance as did fighters from a couple allied nations (Britain and the Netherlands).
    Jedi Transition 011.jpg
    Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon

    Jedi Transition 060.jpg
    USAF F35A Joint Strike Fighter

    Jedi Transition 098.jpg
    USAF F15E Strike Eagle

    Jedi Transition 139.jpg
    USMC F/A18D Hornet

    The Eastern Sierra Mountains:
    Less than a day drive from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America lies the eastern edge of the Sierras Mountains and Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states. The best area to view this is to go just outside of the town of Lone Pine and into the Alabama Hills. From here, as the sun lights up the mountains at dawn, the sight is nothing short of magical!
    Eastern Sierras and trip to Vegas 060.jpg
    The first light of the rising sun hitting Mt Whitney & the Eastern Sierras.

    Despite the fact that almost nothing went as planned, it was a great trip. Death Valley is breathtaking and deserves a second look. (What are the odds that I will hit that kind of a storm again?) The scenery and the lighting is like nothing that I have ever seen before. There are some things that I would do differently. I would make sure that I was in a position to go to the Jedi Transition in the middle of the week (and for more than 2 days). I might stay in other locations.

    When all is said and done, I think that it is safe to say that I will be back.
    Saboteur and Sam Miller III like this.
  2. DandyDon

    DandyDon Old men ought to be explorers ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: One kilometer high on the Texas High Plains
    Thanks for a great report and outstanding photos. The kids & I flew to Vegas with a Death Valley plan, but our problems were getting there - one connecting flight after another canceled, then not finding our way out of Vegas in the dark after our late arrival. We have since learned how to use phone maps and directions. We didn't get as early of a start into the Valley as we'd hoped after the day before, but we spent several hours exploring - and it was magnificent.

    We left for a late lunch on the way to Owens Lake, crossing two mountain range and a junior death valley as you did I suppose, on to Devils Postpile, Mono Lake, Yosemite for a few days, Ancient Bristlecone Forest and more along the shadows of Sierras before unwinding in Vegas for a couple of days. I'd love to do Death Valley again for a few days.

    Eastern Sierra (27).JPG
    Hoag likes this.

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