Lava Hill, Death Valley

I’m trying to keep up the pace with my blogging in a more documentary and trip-report style and this is the second entry from our recent Death Valley trip. We arrived at Stovepipe Wells a little bit ahead of time and since the room wasn’t ready yet, we thought about what we might do during the short remaining time until sunset, and right around sunset. It was solidly overcast but who knew — a break in the clouds might let some late sunlight through!

We drove just a little bit east, past the sand dunes, where the road crosses a plain of arrow weed (Plucea sericea) that is known as “Devil’s Cornfield” (another eye-roller name in the best Death Valley tradition). The plant’s roots stabilize the soil enough that it withstands wind erosion and as a result, the shrubs appear to grow on “pedestals”, a little bit like living capstones on a hoodoo. What that has to do with the devil and a cornfield beats me…

I didn’t find it a location that would lend itself easily to compelling photos, but maybe it was just the weather conditions? The “cornfield” is obviously only at the very bottom of the frame here; in the distance are the eastern slopes of Tucki Mountain. In hindsight, I should have used Big Bertha for some abstracts of those colorful slopes, at 500mm focal length…

Between the sand dunes and the arrow weed plain, the road passes through two lesser hills and since I quite like to be at a somewhat elevated position with the camera, we made our way up to the “peak” of the larger one, on the north side of the road. At the top, thanks to the extreme basin and range topography of Death Valley, we found ourselves at an elevation of just 35 feet below sea level (-10.67 meters)… :)

We were still hoping for that break in the clouds, magic light appearing… unicorns perhaps? None of it happened. I’ve dubbed those two humps “Lava Hills” in the meantime and here’s why: lava rocks!

This too was a difficult spot to photograph in a compelling way… or maybe I just wasn’t mentally “there” yet, able to dive in and visually explore with an open mind. I really, really liked these rocks and how they protruded diagonally out of the ground, and tried quite a number of angles and directions and nothing really seemed to work. Maybe I should’ve tried the low-and-ultra-wide approach here… but I’m somewhat tired of this formulaic approach, so I chose a less dramatic but hopefully more honest documentary photograph.

As the light faded we walked down from our elevated position, choosing the other side of the hill for our dramatic descent, so that we’d at least circle the entire hill and get to see most of it. What struck me was how completely devoid of plant life the west-facing side of it was. This last photo is an in-the-field failure of sorts: I did not see this abstract frame while I was there. It’s quite a heavy crop from the original frame.

We made our way to the car which was parked at the small Devil’s Cornfield pullout, and then drove the short distance back to Stovepipe Wells. We had dinner at the restaurant and while the menu doesn’t look like too much at first, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendly service and the high quality and freshness of the food.

After dinner, we settled in to our room and rearranged our things for the next morning, before having an early night. We wanted to be out at Zabriskie Point, for sunrise — it’s both a cliché and a bucket list thing; you have to do it at least once! From Stovepipe Wells, it’s a tolerable 35 minute drive and in mid January, sunrise isn’t too early yet. We could do this! More about that in one of the next blog posts…

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6 thoughts on “Lava Hill, Death Valley”

  1. Those lava rocks are very cool – maybe you went back when the light was better? In any case, the idea of getting out near dawn in January is far more palatable than doing it later in the year, especially if it isn’t below freezing!

    • Maybe there would have been better light another day but we only had two nights, and didn’t really find ourselves wondering what the heck we should do with all of this time we had. :D

  2. Photos like La Luna Bleue really do bring to mind Mars or the moon, just with a blue cast, and me being me, the title didn’t click until after I’d thought and written that. A bit slow on the uptake, yes I am. :-)


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