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A flooded Badwater Part II

Triple Portrait at Badwater

After my first visit to a flooded Badwater, I knew I had to get back as soon as possible. The impact of the water there compelled me to make every effort to come back. I was still riding a wave of excitement at the images that I was able to capture using my experience and pure luck to be at the right place at the right time. This time I brought two close friends with me to share in the experience. Although I do enjoy the solitude of my photographic passion, it is also great to share the experience. Not having the Friday off from our day jobs, we made the long drive in the dark of Friday evening to prepare for a sunrise at the flooded Badwater. I had shot sunset there twice the previous trip but not sunrise (with some regret). With an evaporation rate of 128 inches a year (about 77x the precipitation rate), I knew I needed to get back fast if the water was going to still be there. The mild temperatures of the Death Valley winter had kept the water there longer than I thought already and there was no telling how long it would last. Fortunately, as you can see, the water was very much still there.

Quiet symmetry

Before sunrise, you can see the very shadow of the Earth as it is chased away by the light. Here I’m looking at a pair of other photographers over by the park’s pull off for Badwater. You can see their little specs on the right of the image. Earth’s gorgeous blue shadow can be seen to the left. Sunrise was imminent.


We watched the quiet light on this windless morning until the sun reached all the way down the Panamint Range. The reflections were a perfect mirror. After the light became more harsh, we decided to have some fun doing some self portraits with the reflected water. Our triple self portrait is at the start of this post. Setting the camera to repeatedly take photos, we walked out and held still so that all the ripples would vanish (about 5 minutes). Then we had some fun.

Over there!

Running on Water

We had a blast, and at the end we were all covered with salty deposits from the splashing water. These photos are challenging because of the light. The entire world around us and the reflections in the water are powered by direct sunlight. Where we were standing was in complete shadow from the Black Mountains behind the camera. Producing anything other than a silhouette stretched the limits of my 5D2’s dynamic range. That’s me on the left!

Eventually, we headed in for breakfast to decide where to head next. I usually like to stop at the 49’er cafe in Furnace Creek for a nice big breakfast after running around in the valley all morning. After breakfast, a trip to Dante’s View was in order. This would allow us to get a complete overview of just how much water there was at Badwater and allow us to scout where to head next. And as luck would have it, clouds were building. From a mile up, the extent of the water was made clear. Click for a much bigger version of this panorama.

Death Valley Panorama from Dante

The clouds were moving by quickly, casting shadows on the valley floor. I made a time lapse video of the action:

It was beautiful. Looking down below we spotted something weird.

An alien hand reaches into the water

We were certainly disturbing the mud was we walked through the water in the morning. What we didn’t realize was just how visible that would be from above! Here you can clearly see the tracks we made through the water. It looks like an alien hand reaching out from the shore. Fortunately are marks were not permanent as they would disappear once the silt settled, later to be covered with white salt when the water was gone.

The views below were crazy. The water increased contrast throughout the valley, emphasizing twists and turns of the water as it snaked its way to the lowest place in North America.

Snakes on a plain

Looking down into a brownish reflection of the clouds above, you an make out the main path that park visitors take in the lower right of this image, and our alien hand on the left.

Cloud reflections in a flooded Badwater

With the cloud cover, we resolved to head back down to Badwater for what could turn into another amazing reflected sunset. On the way back down, a section of the mountains caught my eye.

Folds of rock

Here you can see the tortured history of the valley laid bare. It’s hard to imagine the forces that would take layers of solid rock and bend them 90 degrees.

Again the skies of Death Valley blessed us with a wonderful reflected sunset (click for bigger)

Extra glow sunset at Badwater

It’s a bit hard to describe what it felt like to be there, standing in a motionless mirror of water while this incredible show happens before your eyes. The reflection really makes it almost like you’re floating in space around planet sunset. It’s really awesome and I hope my photos can convey that on at least some small level. After the sun had set, it became self portrait time again. This is actually one of my favorite pictures from the trip. There are four of me here.

Badwater Self Portrait

Here is a comparison to show the extent of the flood and what it looks like without any water. In March I returned for a third trip to Death Valley, and once again looked down on Badwater. The view then was completely different. A vast white field of fresh salt deposits replaced the reflecting lake.



Poof! The water was gone in just two months. With 6 inches of water (maybe a little more) in January, that’s over 1/2 inch a week sucked up into the dry air.

Here are a few more pictures from this wonderful trip

Salty shores and morning haze

Soft shades of erosion

There’s much more to talk about with Death Valley this year, particularly in the realm of star trails. Check back for some more updates from this amazing place.

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