Shortly before I visited the Racetrack Playa for the first time, the mystery of the moving stones had been solved – ice, apparently. Thanks to the flat tire we had encountered at Teakettle Junction, we were behind schedule when we arrived and the sun had already dropped below the peaks of the Last Chance Range to our west. From our spot at the southern end of the Racetrack Playa the photo below shows the playa and Grandstand in shadow with the Last Chance Range, bathed in the glow of the setting sun, in the distance.

Sunset at the Racetrack. The Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand in the shadow as the sun sets behind the Last Chance Range, Death Valley, CA.

The Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand in the shadow as the sun sets behind the Last Chance Range, Death Valley, CA.

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“Thirty years I’ve been coming here and I’ve never seen anyone on the pastels”, complained an ornery gent as we returned to the parking lot with the light almost gone. His claim was rather surprising given the multitude of well work tracks heading into the pastel colored rocks from the Artists Palette parking lot. You have to get out and walk if you really want to see them at their best. And for photographers with digital cameras the potential of the rocks really comes out in the post-sunset twilight. The colors themselves are oxides of various minerals exposed by water erosion of the valley walls.

Photographing the multi-colored rocks after sundown. Artists Palette, Death Valley, CA

Photographing the multi-colored rocks after sundown. Artists Palette, Death Valley, CA

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This desert tree was in a shallow wadi in the Haruj area of Libya. 25-years later, I wonder if it’s still there. You can tell that even then limbs had been cut off, presumably for firewood. The shape of the tree was part of the reason for the photo, but most of the reason was because the tree existed at all. The green scrubby bushes show that moisture wasn’t far below the sandy surface here, but where did that moisture come from? It didn’t rain much. My guess is that there was some clay layer not too far down that kept what little moisture there was in proximity to the surface while the sand, a poor conductor of heat, worked to prevent the moisture below the surface from evaporating. In most of the Libyan Desert a solar still would not work. Here it might just.

A large desert tree sits in a pan in the Haruj, Libya. Prior visitors have cut limbs off the tree, most likely for firewood.

A large desert tree sits in a pan in the Haruj, Libya. Prior visitors have cut limbs off the tree, most likely for firewood.

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I titled this image ‘Bishop Flare’ because it obviously shows flare and it was taken near the town of Bishop in California. Taken relatively early on a fall morning in 1995, I had originally set out to compose something around the center pivot irrigation system but whatever I tried to do, at that time of the day I couldn’t escape the flare. So, I decided to make the flare a feature of the image. Today, I’d set out a tripod but this is a hand-held shot and it’s not quite symmetrical, the sun is slightly offset from center. The rings are caused by the coating on the various lens elements if the Sigma wide zoom I owned at the time.

Flare from the early morning sun frames this center pivot irrigation system near Bishop, CA in 1995.

Flare from the early morning sun frames this center pivot irrigation system near Bishop, CA in 1995.

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The racetrack road runs south from Ubehebe Crater to the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park. It’s a rough, washboarded road and can be quite an uncomfortable trip. The rock pieces are jagged and sharp and there’s not enough room to pass someone coming in the other direction. That’s how we got our flat – we punctured the sidewall while pulling over to let someone pass. We were all surprised to see someone in a regular sedan driving along this road. It’s not a place to take your own vehicle. This is a view to the north, taken during a break somewhere south of Ubehebe Crater and north of Teakettle Junction.

View from the Racetrack Road, Death Valley, CA.

View from the Racetrack Road, Death Valley, CA.

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