Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Sand In My Shoes: The Other Mojave
An adventurous trek to the desert leaves crowded cities behind and gives you a chance to capture unique photographs of an arid landscape
We could tell it was a big operation from the size of the tailing mound and the narrow-gauge rail tracks still in place on the main floor. In some concrete at the mouth is scratched: "November 18th 1927." I can't help but wonder what happened to the men who labored here, and whether or not they "struck the mother lode." Most likely, there was some success but nothing substantial, and they simply moved on. Exploring these man-made caverns is dangerous, and caution must be observed. Only a few of these holes have been rendered "safe." Never bypass a barrier. There are vertical shafts, and the shoring, if there is any, is old and splintery; lengths of wire and sharp, rusted metal lie everywhere. In addition, the cool dark environs make for a nice home for rats, snakes and scorpions. Even if the temperature is a blistering 100º F-plus outside, it can be 20º cooler a few yards in the tunnel. We tried to imagine what it was like to toil here, day after day, digging and blasting through solid rock in the bitter cold of winter and the broiling heat of summer. At least they had clean air and alone time. These mines are kind of a time portal to a different era and a different way of life. Most of them, especially the older works, have a pretty small footprint that just seems to go with the desert.
I've had success in all seasons, and each has its advantages. Springtime, after some good fall and winter rains, can be especially beautiful with the bounty of wildflowers. Everyone else has the same idea, of course, so be prepared for crowds. Death Valley has even had traffic jams during bumper flower years. Spring tends to be quite comfortable as well, so that's when most people tend to visit. Summer is scorching, obviously, but the advantage is that you'll have very little company and long afternoon light to work with. Brief stormy weather might even happen in late summer and early fall, giving a different look to the landscape. It's also worth considering the effect the high temperatures have on digital sensors. If the camera cooks in the summer sun, then even lower ISO settings will produce lots of noise. Fall is another popular time, as the days may be quite warm but the nights begin to cool off. Late-blooming flowers and more critter activity generally rule these months. Winter brings cold temperatures and often heavy winds. The lower elevation of the sun lights the earth with beautiful color. Elevations above 2,000 feet may even get a blanket of snow. The desert in a white coat is spectacular.
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