Know Before You Go: Photographing Death Valley

Pinks & Blues at Zabriske Point | Death Valley, California | © Kitty Singsuwan

I don’t know about you, but I start thinking about upcoming photography trips around this time of year. And Death Valley is one of those places that always comes to mind. I’ve been twice, and want to go back.

There’s just something about Death Valley.

With its curvy sand dunes, eerie salt flats, colorful hills, epic sunsets, geometric mud tiles, and mysterious moving stones, Death Valley is wonderfully diverse and vast. Driving from A to B feels like a journey and then some. You’re left in awe of her sheer size and presence.

Which is the first thing you need to know about Death Valley National Park. It’s the largest in the lower 48. The place is huge. And there’s no cell phone service inside the park.

If you like wildflowers, visit Death Valley in early Spring. The amount of bloom varies from year to year. Super blooms happen, but only when conditions are just right (about once a decade).

If the Milky Way is more your thing, then a Fall visit is a must. The Milky Way rises early during this time.

Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Zabriske Point are worth photographing, and accessible from paved roads. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to walk from the parking lot to your compositions, especially at Mesquite & Badwater.

For an off the beaten path adventure, try Eureka Dunes, Panamint Dunes, and the Racetrack Playa. Reaching these locations will take some effort, and you’ll need your own high clearance 4×4 vehicle to get there. If you’re not not comfortable driving on rough, unpaved, and washboard-in-some-places roads, skip these locations.

GETTING TO DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Harry Reid International Airport (in Las Vegas) is the closest major airport. From there, you’ll drive 2.5 hours northwest to the nearest entrance, via Death Valley Junction.

WHEN TO GO

Early spring for wildflowers.
October & November for the Milky Way (which rises early during this time).

WHERE TO STAY

Furnace Creek (for a central location)
Stovepipe Wells (near Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes)

If you want to stay outside of the park, Beatty, NV offers some cost-effective options. There’s also a pretty good BBQ restaurant in town.

WHAT TO PHOTOGRAPH

Badwater Basin
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Zabriske Point

Badwater, Mesquite, and Zabriske are accessible via paved roads.

Eureka Dunes*
Panamint Dunes*
Racktrack Playa*

*The roads to Eureka Dunes, Panamint Dunes, and the Racetrack Playa are unpaved, rough, and washboard in some places. You’ll need your own high clearance 4×4 to get there. (Most car rental companies prohibit driving their cars on unpaved roads. Off-roading is prohibited.) 

ENTRANCE FEE

Standard entrance fees / passes apply.

Until next time,
K