MESQUITE DUNES - APPROACHING SAND STORM
4:00 AM - Wide awake and raring to go! Another day during my much anticipated photographic journey back to Death Valley. After dragging myself out of bed and while walking to the car, I felt a slight chill in the air and a brisk wind on my face. Hmmm, better look up and see if I can see any stars? Nope - no stars. Oh well lets rock and roll. After a thirty minute ride over to the Mesquite Dunes from Furnace Creek, I parked in the lot and was pleasantly surprised to find I was the only one there. Wonder if I should have checked the radar? Too late. Headlight on, camera gear all squared away, right left, right left, off we go.
After hiking approximately two and a half to three miles, my eyes were starting to adjust to the slow glow of the Eastern sky illumination. Interestingly, one of the things I could see quite clearly was the wisp of sand blowing at my feet and the immediate peaks in front of me. Hooray, at least there won’t be any footprints left over from the day before. Although, with no stars and wind, I knew my chances of getting highly textured dunes with long shadows was more than likely not going to happen. With the anticipation of my preconceived expectations waning, I walked farther into the dunes. Soon, I began to change my thinking and wondered if I might catch some dynamic clouds during sunrise? Hmm, let’s hope for that and set new expectations. As the hazy light from the hidden sun illuminated the eastern sky the occasional flash of lightning began to appear creating a sense of doubt about the morning shoot! Crap - (ok maybe not the exact word I was thinking), time to be ready for anything, raincoat, check camera rain cover, check...ok let’s keep going.
As the light finally rose above the distant mountains, I noticed the soft light illuminating the subtle texture of the dunes combining with the natural form, flow, and variation of the dunes. Looking to the North, there was this incredible bank of clouds that appeared to be moving in my direction. Perfect! Drop the camera bag and race to get everything set up. From my position, I could pivot and swing the camera in nearly any direction and capture the storm over the dunes. The wind was picking up, and occasionally a strong wisp of sand would blow off the peak of a dune. I spent about twenty minutes shooting toward the sunrise to the East and turned to see what was going on in the North, wow look at that cloud formation close to the ground! Swinging the camera and peering through the viewfinder and working on the composition all I could see was this wonderfully bright cloud with soft glowing light over the dunes - hmm, that cloud is getting more prominent in the frame. Click, click, click!
Suddenly, in the frame I noticed the sand blowing off the tops and side of the dunes in the distance, as I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder to take in my surroundings a blast of wind and sand pummeled me in the face. Oh s*@t, that cool cloud was not a cloud at all. It was a fast-moving sandstorm and it caught me totally off guard! My hat and glasses went flying backwards never to be seen again, I quickly pulled the Buff I was wearing and tried to cover the camera and lens. I looked down to see my camera bag filling with sand - Crap, definitely not good! On top of that, I was three mile into the dunes. It was a long fast walk back to the car. But the truth is I was happy, smiling and thinking I got some excellent images this morning. So was it worth it? To me, absolutely!