Originally written for ParksFolio.com
It was early. Very early.
It was still dark when I cracked my weary eyes and peered sleepily out of the opening in my mummy bag stretched across the cot. The weather had been a little windy, but nice and I had slept in the open that night so I could watch the stars. I rarely sleep through the night when camping so I like to sleep in the open so that when I do wake, I can mark the progression of the constellations across the sky.
Orion was gone, so I checked my watch, 4 AM. A short while later I noticed the slightest bit of light to the south and it looked like there might be some clouds in the sky. Clouds are good for sunrises, clouds give the light something to play with, something to paint with vivid morning color.
I would need at least an hour to drive to a part of the valley with features that would work with sunrise light. My makeshift bed sat at the north end of Death Valley in Mesquite Springs Campground and I wanted to at least get to the Kit Fox Hills area for sunrise. If I was going to make it work I needed to get in the truck now. I debated it for a minute or two then decided this might be my only shot for a showy sunrise in Death Valley.
In the truck and headed south the light was coming on fast and I realized I was running behind, I wasn’t going to make it. No one else was up and the road, the park, was deserted in the early morning. I increased my speed.
I wasn’t going fast enough. An amazing drama of color and light was unfolding in the sky and I was racing along a lonely paved road to greet it. I stopped at one point to take a few pictures in fear that I would lose light before I reached the hills. A few images snapped off and I jumped back in the truck, the hues of this story were only getting deeper.
I eventually reached an area along Kit Fox Hills where I could shoot. I jumped out of the truck with my gear and began walking, stopping here and there with the tripod to grab a shot or two then moving on. I was trying desperately to get as much of this sunrise as possible AND look for interesting compositions at the same time. I didn’t have the luxury of milling about thinking through angles, compositions, details and subjects.
At one point the light became so intense that I couldn’t get a shot that wasn’t overblown with oranges. The entire valley, including myself, was on fire with orange light. It was a very strange sensation to be physically lit with the morning glow I’d been chasing. I was immersed in light for a fleeting moment and then it started it’s retreat.
The light moved, danced and changed color bouncing playfully around the valley.
On these trips I make a habit out of catching at least one sunrise while I’m there. The sunrise experience is unique in each place and can be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll have. The best part is that you will usually have the world all to yourself since most travelers won’t bother to crawl from their tents before light. Sunrise and sunset are prime in the desert environment of Death Valley…not to be missed.