Death Valley National Park is a place with many faces. Every site that I visited it was as if I had landed on a different planet. I stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch in the heart of Death Valley. Being that Death Valley is the biggest National Park in the Lower 48, there is no doubt there will be some drive time during your visit. The driving is easy and the roads are straight with most roads having a speed limit of 60 mph. Traveling in the park isn't a hassle like it is in other parks. I visited during the thanksgiving weekend so I didn't have to worry about the absurd temps. During my stay it was about 35 for a low and about 65 during the day. During the summer the air temp has reached a 134 degrees, with a surface temp of over 200 degrees. The average in the summer is 115 to 120. If visiting in the summer do take caution! Did I mention during the summer months, the overnight low is a cool 90 degrees?
My first night I headed to Badwater. This is the lowest point in North America and also this posts' picture. Being that this site is 282 feet below sea level, all the rain water flows to this point. Along the way the rain water collects minerals and such and they all end up in Badwater. When the water dries up from the sun it leaves behind the minerals. It's a sight to see. Heading back to your car in the parking lot you will see a sign that shows where sea level is. 282 doesn't sound like a lot until you actually see how high up that sign is.
The next morning I headed to the Mesquite dunes. This place is great for abstract and fine art photography. The ripples of the sand, the shadows, the lines, everything. It's a great place to visit. Be ready to get sand in your shoes but it is well worth the trip. Get there well before sunrise because you will have to hike a little ways in to find sand without signs of foot traffic.
That evening I headed to the famous race track. This in the northern part of the park and a chore to get to, but it's one I had to see. There is a sign that recommends a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but I wasn't going to let a little sign stop me. I headed back there in a Corolla. It's a 27 mile ROCKY dirt road. I was getting looks from bye passers, but I kept going. Being it's so rough, my speed was about 30 mph, so it takes about an hour to get back there. Just a note check the visitor center for current road conditions. Quite frankly I think I was lucky at how well-groomed the road was.
When I finally got to the race track it was just as amazing as I thought it would be. This is the place of the famous "sailing stones". according to Wikipedia;
"The sailing stones are a geological phenomenon found in the Racetrack. The stones slowly move across the surface, leaving a track as they go, without human or animal intervention. They have never been seen or filmed in motion. Racetrack stones only move once every two or three years and most tracks last for three or four years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and leaving a different-sized track in the stone's wake.
The sailing stones are most likely moved by strong winter winds, reaching 90 mph, once it has rained enough to fill the playa with just enough water to make the clay slippery. The prevailing southwest winds across Racetrack playa blow to northeast. Most of the rock trails are parallel to this direction, lending support to this hypothesis.
An alternate hypothesis builds upon the first. As rain water accumulates, strong winds blow thin sheets of water quickly over the relatively flat surface of the playa. A layer of ice forms on the surface as night temperatures fall below freezing. Wind then drives these floating ice sheets, their aggregate inertia providing the necessary force required to move the larger stones. Rock trails would again remain parallel to the southwest winds".
My Last stop was Zabriski point. It's a great sunrise spot. At all other locals I used my 16-35 wide-angle lens but for Zabriski it was the only time I used the 70-200. Like always I recommend a tripod and a ND grad filter. Death Valley has many photographic subjects. Of all the parks I have visited Death Valley is right up there. I liked it more than the Grand Canyon, but it's not quite as good as Yosemite, but well worth the visit.
Being there only a couple of days I would love to go back. You could probably spend a solid week seeing all the sights. Being remote as it is, things like food, gas, and lodging are a bit pricey, but it's understandable. Bring lots of memory cards, a tripod, and a wide-angle lens and you'll be good to go!