Claudia and I just got back from two trips to Death Valley. That journey started with a workshop I taught for Visionary Wild, with co-leader Jerry Dodrill. Although Jerry and I didn’t know each other well beforehand, it turns out that we have similar approaches to photography and teaching, plus Jerry is super nice – along with being a wonderful photographer and teacher. We got along really well, and had a great group of participants, so it turned into a really fun workshop.
Claudia actually had to return home early to deal with a minor pet crisis. When I got home after the workshop we saw that Death Valley might be getting some interesting weather: rain and higher-elevation snow, with a flash flood watch. We’d never been in Death Valley during weather like that, so we re-packed the car and drove right back. Camping in the rain with possible flooding – sign me up!
After we arrived and found a campsite we headed out to the salt flats, where I found some wonderful patterns underneath brewing storm clouds:
That night it rained on and off, though never heavily enough to make us concerned about flooding. Just a pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent.
In the morning it was still sprinkling, but there were signs that skies would clear at some point. I decided to head up to a spot near Zabriskie Point and see what might happen.
I ended up near a few other photographers, including Erin Babnik’s workshop group, and we all endured wind-driven rain showers while photographing misty scenes of the badlands. Mist isn’t something you expect in Death Valley, but there it was. I felt like I was at Tunnel View in Yosemite, waiting for a storm to clear, except the landscape below was rather different.
I wandered off to get a different view of the badlands, but then noticed some clear patches of sky to the east, so I scurried back in case the sun broke through. It didn’t – at least not right away. Then the light got a little stronger, and suddenly a vivid rainbow appeared next to Manly Beacon.
Why wasn’t I ready for this? It was raining, after all, and sun-at-your-back plus rain equals rainbow. Duh! But I quickly changed lenses, put on a polarizing filter, and was able to capture the rainbow before it disappeared (that’s the photo at the top of this post).
It seemed likely that the sun would reappear at some point, so I waited, and occupied myself photographing smaller scenes. Then, sure enough, a faint rainbow appeared again. It gradually grew stronger, and though it never got quite as vivid as the first one, it did develop some extra bands of color (supernumerary bands):
Although I never saw another rainbow, the sun appeared intermittently, allowing me to capture scenes like these:
While in Death Valley Claudia and I were blissfully out of touch with the news. We were vaguely aware of what was happening with the coronavirus, but when we returned home we found the world in turmoil. Now, like so many people, we’re hunkered down in our house, trying to limit our exposure and do our part to slow the spread of the disease. Thankfully we have an adequate supply of toilet paper. 🙂
I hope you and your loved ones all stay safe and healthy. As the saying goes, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” No one knows what will happen over the next few weeks or months, but we can hope things don’t get as bad as many fear, while preparing for every eventuality. Let’s prepare calmly, and considerately, knowing that regardless of what happens, kindness will help us get through this.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.