While Joshua Tree National park was the destination for the group, there was still much adventuring to come. It was at this point we had to bid Caleb a fond farewell as he had to get back to his family and work. Steve would end up continuing on with Lisa, and Erin would end up riding with myself and Murray. Steve would have to leave after the next two stops and Erin was continuing on to Flagstaff with Murray and I. So sit back, grab a favorite beverage because we are about to cover several states and many VERY cool stops in the finale to this EPIC adventure!!
Twentynine Palms to Death Valley
Our planned route would be to take Amboy Road north (with a brief but very cool stint on Route 66) then head through the Mohave National Preserve then Rt.127 into Death Valley. Roughly 238 miles and just over 4 hours (without many, many stops)
First stop, the famous, and semi-abandoned Roy’s Motel in Amboy, California.
Along side classic Route 66 in the mostly abandoned town of Amboy, California is Roy’s Motel. Famous as the set of several movies and one of only a few gas stations in the Mohave desert this once bustling hotel is now the artist installation and owned by Mr. Albert Okura. Mr. Okura, who owns the Juan Pollo restaurant chain has dedicated his life-preserving and restoring Roy’s and the town of Amboy itself. There was MUCH more to explore here but we were simply doing a drive through. We did manage to stop for a bit and take some shots as the force was strong with this one. Here is the perfectly preserved front desk of the Motel.
Inside each of the “rooms’ is a different and bizarre artist installation! Really cool to find this out in the middle of nowhere!
Adjacent to the motel is the old Amboy public school. Unfortunately it was gated off and posted, but I was able to get this cool photo.
Now the Motel may be abandoned-ish, but the gas station and cafe are not. So while the team was making photos, I decided to go in and talk to the “owner”.
The gist of our conversation went like this. Man behind the counter: “Can I help ya?” Me: “Hi there! I was wondering if you could tell me a little about Roy’s Motel?” Man behind the counter: “I said How can I help ya?” Well after we got past the language barrier he was pretty cool. I told him that I was taking some friends on a photo journey and he thought that was an alright thing. He suggested that I go up the road a bit and ignore the road closed sign and keep going about 2 miles past where we would find the old abandoned Roadrunner Restaurant. I thanked him for the awesome tip and we headed on our way! Sure enough, a couple of miles up the “closed” old Rt. 66 we found the treasure!
Erin and I braved the no trespassing signs that we honestly didn’t see until it was too late. Since we were already in deep we took a few shots. 🙂
Taking note of the BIG writing on the wall we beat feet out of there! All along the road for the 2 miles past the closed road sign, 100’s of people have left their mark on the Rt.66 embankment. Since we were all part of this new thing called The Arcanum, we decided to leave our mark as well. So we set out gathering rocks and putting it together!
Of course once we got our big sign finished we had to do a group shot..with a little magic included. 😉
We left our mark for eternity there in the desert! I am pretty sure you can see that thing from space. 🙂 Next stop for us would be Jubilee Pass on the way in to Badwater and our first stop in Death Valley, The Devil’s Golf Course.
The Jubilee Pass is nothing great but it is a gorgeous precursor valley to the all-to-famous Death Valley.
It is March 1st and we are blessed to see wildflowers and Sphingidae: Hyles lineata caterpillars (Will turn into the wonderful White-lined Sphinx Moth.) everywhere in the valley!
While this is a gorgeous place and the caterpillars are fun, we have a date with the devil and we cannot seem to get Erin back in the car!
Finally we tackle her and drag her back to the car and make our way to Badwater Basin and our first stop, The Devil’s Golf Course. The Devil’s Golf Course is a large salt an on the floor of Death Valley. It gets its name from the fact that only the devil could play golf here!
This such a gorgeous and alien place. It’s hard to get a sense of scale from the photo above. The salt formations here are deep, sharp, and treacherous. Shooting out on this pan has its own unique set of challenges.
In fact there actually may have been a couple of aliens floating around..of the Skeksis kind!
Upon getting home and processing a few more close up shots of these formations I realize there might be another reason for all the Devil’s this, Dante’s that stuff around here. Maybe it’s just me but I see some pretty disturbing visions in these two shots.
Now normally I don’t “See dead people”, but those two shots are pretty scary! Time to high-tail it out of this area and head over to Badwater Basin for a look. One last panorama for the road.
Due to weather moving in and time constraints we decide to skip Badwater basin sans a drive-by and head for the Artists Drive. Artist’s Drive rises up to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron salts produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).
Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydro-thermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.
Artist drive is a one-way road through this part of Death Valley National Park. We pick a stop and head out to get some shots. Turns out there is an overlook here but we decide to hike off the path and up the hill to see what is over the ridge. Turns out to be a pretty good choice. Here is what we are greeted with.
Turns out we have big storm coming right for us. The choice here is to stay and capture the storm, risking a wet and soggy walk back to the car (about a half mile) Or shoot like mad and run! We wisely choose the latter. Luckily though we get a brief reprieve.
Here is a panorama I did featuring Ms. Riedel.
With rain close by now we pack it up and head back to the car to race ahead of the storm. 3 stops left to go and the day is running short and the weather even shorter. Next stop, just up the road on Artist Drive known as Artist’s Palette. A nice overlook with some brilliantly colored rock formations as a backdrop.
Here is another shot of Ms. Riedel and a little better idea of the color.
As you can see the light is getting quite even which means the storm is rolling in on us quickly. Looking forward to the next stop as it has a huge tie in for me. One last panorama from the phone to show the scope of the Artist’s Palette.
Warning Star Wars Geekery Dead Ahead
So it’s a well-known fact that some of the original Star Wars movie was shot here in Death Valley. Particularly the scenes where Luke Skywalker, C3P0, R2D2, and Obi-Wan Kenobi encounter the Sand People. Those particular scenes were shot in a small part of the park known as 20 Mule Team Road. The road is a well graded yet dirt road through a secluded little canyon. Unfortunately it is all the way on the other side of the park. Time and light are running out so we beat feet to our next destination. Just about to reach the entrance road we are confronted with a show stopper.
Moments after this shot the skies open up and our trip to 20 Mule Team is for the lack of a better word, a “wash”. We have one final chance to make one last destination here in the park so we decide that it will be Dante’s View for sunset. Off we head, through the rain for a 5,476ft road to the peak. Keep in mind we are in Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth with an average yearly rainfall of just 2.36 inches! After about 5 minutes on the road to Dante’s View, it starts SNOWING! Yes, SNOWING in Death Valley. It is thanks to this final straw that I earn the moniker of “The Snow Miser” on this trip. In all my life I never figured that I would see snow on my first visit to the hottest place on Earth!
Regardless of the 20°F temperatures, wind, and SNOW, we decide we have come this far, no need to stop now. We grab our gear and head out on the trail. What an unbelievably gorgeous view!
That’s not rain in the distance, I can guarantee you. The snow did let up quickly and there was no accumulation. Nothing really but a bizarre strange feeling we were truly blessed on this visit with some amazing skies and weather as backdrops for our photos.
Dante’s View is probably one of the most well-known spots in Death Valley. I had done quite a bit of pre-viewing on the internet before visiting. I kind of knew what was in store, minus the snow. One of things that I did not know was that this was a famous shot in the movie Star Wars. There is a scene where Obi-Wan and Luke are overlooking the city of Mos Eisley and this is that exact spot!
At the time of the visit, I had some feeling like I had been here before, but thought it was just my seeing it on the internet. Now I feel it was more because of the movie and the impact that it has had on my life. To give you an idea of what I mean, I was just 14 years old when the original Star Wars – A New Hope was released. I remember coming out of the movie theater stunned. I had never seen anything like it. And the message of the movie was so clear, whatever you believe you can do, you can! I have carried this philosophy with me my entire life. I believe it is why learning new things comes very easy to me. I just plainly have never believed there isn’t anything I can’t do. Fast forward 36 years to July of 2014 and I get an email from one of my Photography idols, Trey Ratcliff to join him on a new project known as The Arcanum. The Arcanum is a sort of magical academy of the arts. Think Hogwarts, but for Artists. Trey got the inspiration for The Arcanum from the book by Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind. In the book the main characters are based around a magical academy known as The Arcanum which is based on the ancient practice of Master and Apprentice learning. Now this may sound far-fetched but Star Wars is also based on this same premise. I can only wonder if Patrick Rothfuss was somehow inspired by Star Wars. For me, it is an incredible connection between myself and the three. Wrapping in to all of this is that my apprentice and now good friend Caleb from this very trip worked on the original movie! How cool is that? And his first four SLR photos were from the set! After this trip he presented me with the shots during a community challenge at The Arcanum. I was so inspired that I set out to compose his original black and white photos into some NASA color backdrops. Caleb is now releasing those collaborative shots as super limited editions. You can check those out at this link: https://goo.gl/SeKwtU What a long strange trip it has been (so far)! Time to head off the mountain and off to Nevada for the nights stay before visiting our final two destinations for this journey. Well, maybe one more big shot to warm you up a bit for the journey ahead.
Pahrump, Nevada to Techatticup, Nevada
Through some extra poking and prodding, Lisa and Steve would be making this trip with Murray, Erin, and I to a ghost town in Southern Nevada. I think they are both glad they did.
About 90 miles south of Vegas in the middle of the desert is a small “ghost town” of Techatticup also known as the Eldorado Canyon Gold Mine. Established in the 1800’s and the site of numerous wild west hijinks, Husband and wife, Tony and Bobbie purchased the property and opened it to the public. Since then, many music videos, photo shoots and the movie “3000 miles to Graceland” have been shot there. I first visited in 2012, then in 2013 and then again during this trip in 2015. Being that the site is loaded with amazing vehicles, buildings, and EVERYTHING. I thought this would be a great place to visit with Steve, especially on his Birthday!
Steve, like myself is quite the nostalgic gear head. As you can see from some of these shots it was like hog heaven for him. While the gang was out shooting, I was in the general store trying to get a moment with Bobbie so that I could see her, say “hello” and sign a print of mine that she like and had printed and sent to her prior to our visit. In 2013 I had done a big story on the site along with a feature in Nevada Magazine and let me tell you, I had never seen this place so busy. I waited roughly 45 mins to get my fleeting moment. They were swamped with customers. Here’s Bobbie with her print.
While it was a pain to wait, it was also amazing to see them this busy in March. I am so happy for them! If you are ever near Vegas, make sure you grab your camera and take this place in! To see more, check out my story here: http://goo.gl/GTD70D
Like I had mentioned in part II of this series. This trip was all about the long exposure for me. This place was prime territory for that. AND, we had great cloud cover again!
Lots more photos from the day and my other visits here: https://goo.gl/C70jPB
That about winds the day and we still have one matter of business to take care of.
Time to say farewell to our traveling buddies Steve and Lisa. The pack up and head out and we are just behind. Honestly, Eldorado feels like my second home. As we are cresting the hill we wave goodbye to Lisa and Steve as they speed ahead of us, leaving us in the dust. I take one last look out the rear view mirror and just about flip out. I crank the wheel and drive into the ditch, yelling at Murray and Erin to get out of the car quick! They must have thought I sat on a rattlesnake. Breaking behind us is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed, or so I thought.
We scramble down the hill, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and cholla cacti be damned! By the time I get my camera set-up the beautiful light that I saw in my rear view and rainbow are fading..have I just missed the most amazing shot ever? NO! Because just 2 minutes later the rainbow and light both come back with a vengeance!
Dancing and high fives all around! I just wished Lisa and Steve would have turned around. They say, “Never Look Back” but this time, I am glad I did. Lisa and Steve are headed back to California and Murray, Erin, and I are off to Flagstaff and an early morning at the south rim of The Grand Canyon!! Can this trip get any better?
Find out in the final installment, Joshua Tree Pilgrimage Part IV. Coming right up!
Make sure to check out everyone’s blogs for their photos and stories from the trip: