Death Valley Phacelia Canyon

Death Valley Phacelia Canyon

full print size of 29.6x37.6 inches @304.8ppi, above displayed at 1/178
Copyright © David Senesac 2005   view detailed crop

geranium Death Valley National Park, Inyo County
early afternoon Sunday March 6, 2005, slide 05-D-31
Wisner 4x5 Expedition, 90mm Caltar, Gitzo G1325 Mk2
Tango Drum scanned Fuji Provia 100F 4x5 film to 300mb RGB file
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 processed for accurate image fidelity
Lightjet5000 printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper
signature bottom mid left          

During wet years the low elevations of Death Valley National Park are often among the first areas showing wildflower blooms in the Mojave Desert. During the El Nino winter season of 1997/1998 record rains of about 6 inches greened the desert and brought unprecedented wildflower displays at the park. Then for six years conditions returned to the meager levels of less than a couple inches annually the park is known for. Not only one of the hottest but also one of the driest places on the planet. Then in 2005 similar heavy winter rains occurred and by late January a series of wildflower blooms brought spectacular blooms to many of the lower elevations of the park. In photographer communities there was considerable buzz about park conditions and when peak displays might be occurring. I had just returned from a weeklong trip to Anza-Borrego State Park near San Diego and was now looking forward to make my first ever road trip to the distant park. Weather continued to be mostly stormy which had the usually dry Amargosa River flowing into Death Valley filling the usually dry enormous shallow lakebed of Lake Manly. The first week of March, I set off with a hope to catch enough sun and blue skies between the stormy periods to make the long trip worthwhile.

After days of murky skies, on the fifth day, Saturday, blue sky was forecast for Sunday, so I drove south the 40 miles from Furnace Creek Ranch, to the vast flower fields west of Jubilee Pass about the old mining ruins of Ashford Mills. On very windy Saturday I surveyed the flower areas, noting with binoculars an out of the way canyon in the mountains beyond the main flower expanses, which I decided to explore. Two species had dominated early displays at the park, the tall fragrant yellow hued desertgold, geraea canescens, which were still going strong and brown-eyed evening primrose which was well past peak. Sunday morning not only broke to beautiful blue sky but also the constant winds had subsided to a slight breeze. At sunrise as other photographers began gathering at the main patch of desertgold beside the highway, I hiked out to the canyon in this image.

Though there had not been significant rains in over a couple weeks which might have smoothed out footprints, this wash was absolutely trackless. Yes among the thousands of photographers stopping along the road for days, not even one had walked up this canyon not far from the highway.

The canyon was absolutely not only densely covered by desertgold, but also purple hued notch-leaf phacelia, phacelia crenulata. In fact the just emerging phacelia were now dense on many of the hillsides beyond the highway but the color was difficult to distinguish against the rocks, so few photographers had taken notice. I set up this shot with the intent of showing the mix of the two dominating annuals along the limestone canyon walls while including the distant snowy Panamints and the valley floor. The dense mix of near flowers with interesting complexity made for a particularly compelling large format image.

This image looks west southwestward down the canyon with the southern end of the snowy Panamint Range above the southern floor of Death Valley in the background. At that point the range is about 9,000 feet and the valley floor at sea level. Storms during the week had coated the higher elevations with snow while the valley areas basked in pleasant 60 and 70-degree temperatures. The dark volcanic geology of Shoreline Butte, which is behind the Amargosa River from Ashford Mills are the dark hills at mid frame. Note the yellow covering of dense desertgold on those distant hills. The canyon geology itself is an ancient pink to orange Paleozoic limestone, which is quite evident by the texture of surface weathering on foreground rocks. Desertgold dominate the right frame benches above a central sandy wash while notch-leaf phacelia dominate the near foreground in this view. Just above the purple phacelia at frame bottom center, are large white petals of a rising gravel ghost, atrichoseris platyphylla, and nearby several less showy white flowers of scented cryptantha, cryptantha utahensis.

Crop at 100% print size:


   David Senesac

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