2006.01.04, 10:30p. Racetrack Road past Ubehebe Crater.
     Long drive up today, though smooth. More time than I thought it would take. North to Banning, through San Bernardino, Cajon Pass, Barstow. Baker, Shoshone and farther north to Lathrop Wells, then northwest on 95 through the Amargosa Valley to Beatty. Cheap gas, brothels north of town, and small casinos brightly lit against the otherwise-empty desert night, scraping attention... from whom, exactly? Stretches like this, I think it might be nice to switch to satellite radio, but then I'd lose the ritual of the continuous seek cycling across the dial and then tapping through the FM spectrum .2mHz at a time, scratching in distant bad country stations...
     Farther north to Scotty's Junction, then down Grapevine Canyon and into the park. Across to Ubehebe crater and then slightly beyond, to sleep on the far side of nowhere.

  2006.01.06, 7:30p.
Furnace Creek Campground.
     Worked on the project for Alex Morris's recital today. He wants to try to have images projected behind his own original percussion composition. He envisions a narrative story line of a survivor emerging from a crater, trekking across a desert, finding an empty ghost town, a feeling of isolation, and then (maybe?) redemption. I'm out here trying to get the images. Sunrise at Ubehebe crater. Breakfast. Drove down to Titus Canyon; hiked across to Fall Canyon. Up Fall Canyon photographing, then lunch and a nap in the canyon before hiking out. Sunset photography in the ashbed badlands across from the original Stovepipe Wells, below the Black Mountains.
     Many people in the campground. Not like last night. I was utterly alone out there, likely not another person within a
Fall Canyon narrows

sunset below the Black Mountains
  ten-mile radius. No artificial noises or visible lights. It was a late arrival, almost 10pm. The moon was setting as I parked--only starlight. The sky was incredibly black. Pure black. No evidence of other people. Windy and cold, but I felt like I could finally breathe fully for the first time in a long time. Fresh snow on the mountains to the west, the Last Chance range, and to the north, the Sylvania Mountains. It's been too long since the long trip through Eureka Dunes and out to the Racetrack and it won't happen this year either, not after this last storm.
     Long run tomorrow. Not sure where I want to do sunrise. Like Big Sur, I feel like I've exhausted all of the obvious possibilities. A bad sign for Southern Utah. Maybe I should try somewhere else.
     Am trying hard not to be too anxious about the sabbatical, but too many things depend on it. All sorts of other plans back up against it. And yet, despite the astonishing possibility of it happening at all, I find myself resenting Idyllwild for taking up too much of my time. I didn't plan on being here this long. I find myself thinking back to grad school fondly where at least I was doing something, even if struggling.

  Although I don't nearly know her whole story, I envy Julie. How many of the rest of us had this as our career choice? How many of us would trade it for something else, given the choice?
     Teenagers are too good at detecting bullshit to fake this job. I need to either commit to it or leave.

2006.01.06, 9:00a. Furnace Creek Campground.
     Noisy neighbors last night, like a platoon let out on leave and determined to enjoy themselves, studiously unaware of their surroundings. Awake for a long time. Slept in; no sunrise photography.
     Warm in the sun, cool in the shade. Fresh-grilled tortillas and a stumachfull of hot chocolate for breakfast, with memories of the Sierra alongside the Jetboil mug. Long views down a twenty-mile playa. What could be better?
     Odd how, trying to photograph for Alex's project and trying to get away from plant life, just how much of it there is. Do Easterners and Europeans see it? Or do they see the sere browns and drab olives and think it barren? It took me about five years afer moving out here to appreciate it. Even here, in the nominally most inhospitable place in the continent, there's abundance--if only dormant.

Red Cathedral slot canyon

Furnace Creek Formation badlands
  2006.01.07, 8:30a.
Furnace Creek Campground.
     Back from sunrise photography at Zabriske Point. No real expectations for photography, and the morning lived up to them. Hazy, flat light. No clouds. No moment; no drama. For all that, not a bad way to start the day. Pretty much knew what I was getting into before going. So much is dependent on the weather, which, right now, is too good. Went out as much for the ritualistic formality of the exercise as any other reason. It's January, I'm in Death Valley, and so I need to do sunrise at Zabriske. I'm definitely edging into the rut side of the groove-rut continuum.
     Badwater and Golden Canyon yesterday afternoon after an aborted attempt at a long run. Legs just not working right; stiff and painful. Just never on top of it this year, not since coming back from the JMT.

       The salt flats at badwater were a beautifully pristine white... but there was no real development of polygons yet. Featureless. Stark and interesting in its own right, but not what I'm looking for to illustrate the geological processes. And while highway 190 has reopened, the road up to Dante's View is now closed for construction, which makes this the fourth year in a row that I haven't been able to get up there. Photography is starting to look like a wash this year. Went up Golden Canyon in the late afternoon, up to Red Cathedral. A group of geologists from Texas A&M were up there, leaving me nostalgic for grad school again. It's a popular winter trip for geology groups from around the country, so it's not uncommon to run into them out here. Red Cathedral was interesting; even a short slot narrows. Got wrapped up in photographing some of the badlands in the Furnace Creek Formation and missed the golden-hour sunset light looking up from below Manly Beacon. Another time.  
shadows in Red Cathedral

sunrise from Zabriske Point

  2006.01.07, 2:00p. Death Valley/Saratoga Springs.
     Although the name is reminiscent of upstate New York, almost nothing else here is. I'm in the extreme southern tip of Death Valley National Park, and this place is gorgeous. Absolutely the highlight of the trip. Left the park and headed south through Shoshone and past the turnoff for Dumont dunes. Turned in west at the Harry Wade exit route and then headed northwest past the Ibex dunes to the springs. A desert wetlands, if there is such a thing. I've always been curious about the marshy grasses near Shoshone and the small pools outside of Tecopa; here they both come to fruition.
     There's about a football-field-sized area of open water, divided into three primary pools. Four to six times that much area in grasslands. Most astoundingly, though, is the wildlife. It's an actual oasis. Oh, not the stereotypical cartoonish Saharan oasis, but a real oasis nonetheless. And hence an island of life amongst the salt flats, limestone outcrops, and basalt hills. Birds and frogs, notably. It's rich with the sounds of life: wind shrusshing through the tall reeds, burbling, tchucking, warbling. At least eight or ten frogs of at least two different species calling... Fabulous. Sat there a long time through lunch and after.


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