Recently, I've been possessed by this insatiable urgency to get out and explore. I get pent up when I remain static in a city for too long--a kind of reverse cabin fever. It can be an affliction at times, idealizing the far-off and unknown hot springs and hiking trails of the natural spaces outside Los Angeles. The outdoors becomes a destination, a mission, a place to arrive at, shoot and leave. So, then where's the room for enjoyment?
It was with this in mind that my partner, Sera, and I sought to visit Death Valley, back in February--a location completely unknown to us at the time. With only two days available to make the trek in and out of the park, and a strong desire to make it a shooting trip, we made it a point not to visit every destination in the park, as if finishing a checklist. We would arrive at our own pace, stopping to take in views, detours, or interact with whomever crossed our path. Time would be limited, but we would saturate ourselves in the now, and if the desire to shoot arose, we wouldn't question it.
What is usually a leisurely 4-5 hour trek into the park took us upwards of nine hours, mostly because we stopped so damn often. The iconic 395 highway is one of two entrances into the park, and takes one through the rim of the Eastern Sierras (an area iconic and largely under-explored in its own right), so there was plenty of sudden braking and skidding and reversing and looking out for oncoming big rigs as we hustled across the two-lane blacktop to capture abandoned filling stations, RVs, and the vastness of the landscape.
A turnoff toward the park brought us out of the rain clouds of the Sierras, and immediately into the cracked and parched badlands of the Death Valley rim. With little to no human contact within site, we took it as a welcome chance to shoot nudes.
Chasing daylight (and sporadic rain clouds), we gunned it into the center of the park in enough time to grab a campsite and head into the clouds for the sunset.
And once the sun set, we headed below sea level into Badwater Basin. The limitations of a 50 mm lens on a Nikon FM2 (my camera of choice) don't properly demonstrated the grandiosity of the universe when it is unencumbered by the light poisoning of the city. Standing within the salt flats, one could tangibly feel the sphere of the Earth.
The next day we left at dawn to chase the light. Much of our drive was spent oogling at the otherworldliness of the landscape, forgetting to take pictures entirely. Far from the trivialities and stresses of the city--and in a landscape known primarily for its desolation--we found ourselves enamored with its geological beauty. Every rock, every stone and curve of the Earth felt that it had purpose, meaning. One day in, our bodies coated in dust, and we felt elevated and rooted all at once.
On our way out of the park, we ran into an undercover park employee named Steve, taking in the morning views at Artist's Palette. After some unsolicited Star Wars info related to the park (see photo above), which, being Sci-Fi fans, we loved, Steve proceeded to give us some hot tips on a literal hot spring outside the park.
Eager to rinse of the dust before returning to urban life, we meandered out of the park into Nevada, pit-stopping in Tecopa, CA--a blip on the map that's popular for its Chinese Date Farm and volcanic hot springs. Ignoring the signs for "Mud Mites" after a local gave us the safety go-ahead, we spent the remainder of our trip soaking in sulphur perfumed mud, befriending an overzealous and bearded plumber from LA who--for at least a few minutes--convinced me he was Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
Tecopa still remains a secret to most travelers, largely due to its somewhat inconvenient location, and the general population's preference for Vegas and larger destinations that surround it. We're happy to keep it a quiet escape.