Superbloom

Location: Death Valley, CA

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Death Valley recently had a rare event called a 'super bloom', it happens about once every ten years and Astro Bandit and I decided to check it out over the weekend - it was mobbed, but it was beautiful. There weren't as many flowers as I was hoping for, but there were still quite a few along the highway to badwater basin and around furnace creek. We trekked it out to a few spots you might want to visit if you do plan on checking this out while it's still happening.

Here's a quick view from inside our car on the way there. High winds had kicked up a lot of sand from the dunes off highway 190, the motorcyclists had it the worst! The winds were averaging around 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph - terrible conditions for camping.

windy

Luckily, we checked out forecasts along the way there and it looked pretty favorable that the winds would die down by the evening, which they did for the most part. Here is Astro Bandit saying farewell to the storm.

You can see a sparse blanket of desert gold flowers along the base of the image above. Funny that it's called the 'desert gold flower', because the rainbow we saw on the way into the park definitely led us to believe we might find the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

We found our pot of gold :)

That night the winds kicked back up so we opted to sleep in the car rather than try to set up a tent in 25 mph winds (no thanks). Throughout the night, we listened to other campers shouting and yelling as their tents whipped and blew over from the strong wind gusts. I felt pretty good about our decision to not set up a tent.

At 3:30am, we woke up so that I could snap this image of the Milky Way over the mesquite dunes using my star-tracker tool that allows for much longer and clearer exposures of stars. The hike out there took about an hour and it was tough to navigate in near pitch black conditions. I'm glad we got to a decent spot before just the sun came up! You can see the sunrise start to fade in on the lower left of this image below:

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My camera settings for this exposure above were F2.8, ISO 1600, with a 78 second exposure time. I lit the dunes from frame left and right with a red/blue tipped Night-Writer.

While we were there, I added a rattlesnake to my Spirit Animals series just before dawn broke on the horizon. 

Good Morning Death Valley! Now it's time for some coffee.

Day 2

We did some exploring around badwater basin and found a weird hole in the ground that lead to what looks like part of an aquifer under all that salt! Crazy stuff (tap an image to see it large):

That night we went to the Artist's Palette, a colorful mountain in Death Valley formed by volcanic activity. If you visited this place in person, you'd say 'it looks photoshopped'.

Here it is at blue hour, just after sunset:

It's tough to compete against a background as colorful as this with a light-painting, but I was feeling this one because I've had this creature on my mind for a few weeks now.

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Don't let Looney Tunes and the Wile E. Coyote fool you, the greater roadrunner is also a vicious predator. Just look at the poor lizard in it's beak, or imagine it eating a rattlesnake (they do). These guys will eat almost anything smaller than them including snakes, lizards, tarantulas, black widows, scorpions and mice. It's easy to imagine them as evolutionary descendants of a dinosaur like the velociraptor.

Desert Tour in the '78

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA

We recently rented a '78 VW manual shift Riviera pop-top nicknamed 'Rell Sunn'  from this really cool and unique business that has a fleet of vintage VW buses for rent in Southern California called Vintage Surfari Wagons. Yes, this exists, and yes, you can rent one from their fleet in Costa Mesa, CA on your next road trip - it's an experience for sure! 

This is basically our digital-media guestbook entry:

Day one started out with picking the VW Bus up in Costa Mesa, CA. We went over some of the quirks about driving a 38 year old automobile and how to best utilize all the features like the propane stove, pop-top camper, and mini-refrigerator. One of the more important points was telling fuel level by the mileage, not the gas gauge - which averages around 200 miles per tank with a little cushion just in case. After a few pointers, I was all set and took 'Rell Sunn' up to Los Angeles to pick up my girlfriend Astrobandit and head out to our first destination, Red Rock Canyon State Park off the Hwy 14.

A neat feature of the passenger chair is that it can swing and lock 180 degrees to face backwards toward the sliding-door and kitchenette area. Good for views and good for playing board games also.

We got to the park around sunset and  selected a nice camping spot close to the cliffside and watched the tail end of the sun fade into the hills.

Here we are popping the top once night fell. The bus can sleep 4, two down low and two up top. An important pointer here is to try and park on a fairly level surface, otherwise you will find yourself crawling to the other side of the van when you slip toward the center of gravity in your sleep. Next time I'd bring a few 2x4's for good measure.

mr fixit

While we slept, I had one of my light-skeleton friends do a little check up on the vehicle. All was in order thankfully.

Night one felt like we were out camping on Mars, the rock formations are something else. Rell Sunn looks like a space-pod here. 

Stay tuned for Day 2..