Trips in Review

Death Valley Photo Shoot- Trip reviewed by Ben Dove
On March 7, Canyon Rio took a truck and trailer full of tents, kitchen supplies, water, and food over to Death Valley, California for a Marc Muench Photo Workshop. Marc is a professional landscape and sports photographer designated by Kodak in 2003 as a Kodak Photo Icon. Marc’s photography has appeared on covers or inside Time, National Geographic, Traveler, Arizona Highways, Ski, Skiing, Sunset, Outside, Sierra Magazine, etc. Marc also puts on photo workshops for armatures, enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to benefit from the experience of him and his team. (photo)

After driving six hours to reach Death Valley, Katy, Donnie, and I struck out for Eurika Sand Dune where we were to set up camp and awaited the arrival of the photo workshop the next day. It was immediately apparent why Marc had contracted with us. Eurika Sand Dune is four hours away from the park entrance. The workshop participants, who had been staying at the park hotel, could spend most of the day driving to the dune and back and miss out on the chance to explore experience the dune under different light. (photo)

As soon as we left the blacktop, we began driving on the worst washboard roads I have ever experienced. Normally it would not be a big deal. I am not a fan of roads in National Parks and the more decrepit the better in my opinion. However, we had brought a trailer for the gear and it was apparent that if we drove at any speed above a crawl the trailer would shake its self apart. After six hours, we had seen one amazing sunset, removed one VERY stuck rock from between the tires on our dully truck, and arrived at camp. (photo)

We spent the next morning getting everything set up and shaded from the desert sun. A kitchen with more stove burners, pots, pans, utensils, and counter space than I have at home quickly went up. This was followed by individual tents for our guests and a large military mess hall tent for communal activities. On the river we always try to organize things in a way that makes sense, is neat, and visually appealing. Normally this goes unnoticed by our clientele but we did our best this time knowing our work was about to be seen by a group of people whose entire purpose on this trip was to judge visual aesthetic. (photo)

I have to hand it to the photographers, they were not there to pretend or go through the motions. From the moments they arrived in the afternoon, they were off scouting locations to take pictures from once the light was right. For our part, Katy, Donnie, and I kept drink coolers topped off and food available. As we drew closer to the “magic hour,” the hour before the sun when the light is so wonderful for photographs, the photographers began to gather their tripods and march off to their chosen shooting locations. Meanwhile the crew and I got to work on dinner, chicken curry with salad and dutch oven brownies. The workshop participants would be back as soon as night fell for dinner before going back out for some night photography. (photo)

I do not think there was any point that night when everyone was asleep at the same time. People would go off the shoot the dune by moonlight, and later, once the moon had set, they would shoot the stars. Katy and I took turns sleeping too so that someone was always available to keep the coffee hot and snacks available. The next morning, while we prepared a pancake breakfast, the process from the evening before was repeated with people choosing a shooting location for sunrise and the morning “magic hour.” I wish I had been able to see some of the photos from that day after they had been touched up and printed. If they were anything like the sunrise I saw with my eyes then there were keepers to be certain. (photo)

After breakfast we packed up the circus and slowly drove another six hours and got set up to repeat the process. This time at the famous moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa. No one gave me a conclusive answer as to how the rocks moved but the trails they leave on the Playa are permanent reminders that nature does incredible and unexpected things. These trails are just as permanent as the boot prints left on the Playa earlier this year. Someone took it upon themselves to walk on the Playa when it was wet; a reminder that people do careless and unexpected things. (photo)

After a grilled steak, chicken, and salmon dinner the guide crew was able to get a restful nights sleep thanks to a cloudy night sky. To be honest, I was disappointed. I had been consulting one of the work shop participants about night time photography and was looking forward to giving it a try if the opportunity presented itself. As it was, we woke up in the morning to prepare a breakfast feast of home fries, bacon, fruit salad, and eggs. Said our farewells, and packed up camp to begin the long trip back to Flagstaff, Arizona. The group would be sticking around to continue shooting but they would do so closer to their rooms at the hotel and would not need our mobile base camp any longer.

It was my first trip to Death Valley and I was happy for the excuse to go. If any reading this decides to make the trip, you have to camp out. Anything really worth seeing in Death Valley is far enough away from the entrance on rough enough roads that it takes some time to get around. Furthermore, you have to get out of your car, get off the road, and spend some time experiencing the place under different lights. Death Valley is a harsh place under the light of day. But if you get to see it at sun rise and sun set, under the light of the moon, or when the clouds are just right, then you will get to experience a landscape of vibrant color and incredible textures that you would never know was there from your car, driving on the road, in the middle of the day.