Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is among our favorite spots for photography. The desert offers many opportunities almost year around, providing you can endure the wrath of the summer heat. We prefer early spring as each spring the desert starts over, the many footprints and presents of the nearly one million visitors that troll Death Valley each year disappear from winter storms. We do enjoy late fall, November, December, for the beautiful cloud formations, filtered light and cool temperatures. There are many websites including Wikipedia with a perihelia of current and historical information on Death Valley so I will not bore you with the overstated.
Like many of our National Parks the environment is that of enjoying nature. For most, you are minimally restricted to where you can hike. If you, like myself, are in a wheelchair, the opportunities are almost as endless. I have to give a lot of credit to our federal government for allowing and providing us the opportunity to equally enjoy the beauties of our national parks. I will start by saying that we are campers, we enjoy being in the trenches of nature and both Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells offer great campgrounds that are as accessible as can be in the dessert. We usually stay in the Furnace Creek Campground and I will expand on the campgrounds later.
Let’s start with Zabriskie Point since it is one of the highlights of the park. The path up to the vista view is fairly steep, I’m guessing a 10 degree slope in some places, but it is paved with asphalt. If you are a manual chair user it will be a bicep killer on the way up and a fast ride down. I believe your three or four wheel scooter could manage the round trip providing you have rubber tires.
Many of today’s scooters have hard plastic type wheels which can easily slide out of control on steep descents. For my electric wheelchair, the scariest was merely the visual aspect of the steep climb on the trip up and looking down the hill thinking how steep it would be on the return. Once you reach the top you will find the asphalt viewing area easy to navigate with a low rock boarder around the perimeter providing an unobstructed view that will have you going in circles. Most, if not all, photography websites with information regarding shooting times, they tell you the best time is sunrise, and for the most part that is true. If you arrive early, prior to Astronomical sunrise be sure to look behind you, to the East, pre-dawn over the Amargosa Range can be an amazing sight and a rewarding photo opportunity. There are also restrooms in the parking lot that are ADA accessible.
Another accessible opportunity is Artists Drive. It’s a great drive offering many photographic opportunities along the way and you are limited only by your creativity. You can’t go far off the road or the well traveled paths without finding that soft dessert sand, but then you really don’t have to go that far out to capture some beautiful scenes. Artist Drive parallels the Black Mountains and on a partially overcast day the colors are their most vibrant. Artists Palette is a vista view area that looks to the most scenic area of the Black Mountain Range. There are restrooms located at the edge of the parking lot that are ADA accessible. The parking lot has a couple of handicap stalls near the restrooms with room to expand a wheelchair lift. There is a hiking trail that descends into the canyon, unfortunately the trail head is not wheelchair friendly and the dirt trail descends rapidly. Nonetheless we found many directions to point the camera with stunning results. We traveled through Artist Drive twice. The first trip through the sun was so bright and the sky so blue that we did not see those beautiful rich colors everyone talks about and our pictures were flat and colorless. A few days later the day was partially overcast so we decided to take an early mid-afternoon drive through. It was as though we were in an entirely different area of the park. The mountains were popping with rich colors and the textures were much more visible. We setup the tripod and took several sets of images and quickly realized the images from our first visit would have to be discarded.