When I was preparing to leave home to go to the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, something told me I should bring my book. I did, and that was just about the only thing that went right that day. Well, it wasn’t a complete failure--I did end up with the image below, but I didn’t get to visit the dunes at all in what was close to being a comedy of errors.
Mojave National Preserve is about two hours south of Las Vegas. Many people drive by it on I-15 on their way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but few stop to explore there. It is really an interesting place. It’s isolated, and it feels that way. It’s quiet--very quiet. It’s a little spooky. Once I exited the interstate and started driving on Kelbaker Road into the preserve, I was alone. On the way to Kelso Depot, which is a train station where there is a visitor’s center and which is located nearly 30 miles into the preserve, I passed only one car headed in the opposite direction. I pulled over and got out of the car at one point. There was absolute silence. The only thing I heard was the occasional noise made by various insects nearby.
I arrived at the depot just as they were closing. When I say “they,” I mean the single park ranger who works there. So I got back on the road and continued to my destination, the Kelso Dunes. These dunes are some of the highest and largest sand dunes in the country. The highest dune is around 600 feet. They are clean sand, too. They’re not littered with brush or other small plants. It really feels like you’re in the middle of the Sahara.
Unfortunately, things did not go so well. I was leaving home later than I had planned, so I thought I probably would not have time for one of the hikes I wanted to do, but at the same time I would probably have some time on my hands before sunset when I was planning to shoot the dunes, so I brought my book with me. It’s a good thing. I had checked the weather report the day before, and it said it would be partly cloudy during the day and mostly clear in the evening. The forecast was correct, except that it left out the possibility of scattered thunderstorms, or maybe I just missed that part. A storm cell was forming right over the dunes as I was driving toward the area!
When I arrived at the trailhead, there were dark clouds, thunder, some lightening, and the beginnings of some showers. I wasn’t about to go out and climb to the top of a 600 foot high sand dune with no trees or any other cover and carrying a metal tripod, making myself the absolute tallest thing in the area when a thunderstorm is in progress! So I sat in the car, waited, and read my book. I hoped the storm would pass quickly and leave me time to do the hike and find a good spot for photography before sunset. It didn’t. Eventually I had to give it up. It got too late for me to be able to get to a good position in time even if things did clear up. Strike one.
Interestingly and somewhat maddeningly, the rest of the sky was pretty clear. It was just like the forecast had said. The storm was only over the dunes, right where I wanted to be. I decided to try to salvage the trip by finding some other things to photograph. Kelso Depot itself is an interesting building, so I headed back in that direction. When I got there, I didn’t even bother to stop. The light was terrible. The sun was completely blocked by the storm, so instead of the nice golden light that would have been falling on the depot at this time, it was completely in dull shadows. I kept going.
On my way out of the preserve, I passed through the Joshua Tree forest. I found a field of some trees that would make a nice subject, so I pulled over and took some test shots. It was starting to get a little too dark, and I needed my tripod. I got the tripod out and set it up. When I went to put the camera on the tripod, I couldn’t believe it. The mounting plate that connects the camera to the tripod was missing! Normally I leave that attached to the camera at all times, but I remembered that I had switched it to my secondary camera a few days earlier and never moved it back. Strike two!
I did the best I could under the circumstances. I ended up with the image at the beginning of the article, which I do like. I may have taken a different photograph if I had had more time, but the light was changing very rapidly, I was fumbling around with the tripod with its missing mounting plate, and I was about to lose an opportunity for any picture at all. There were also a lot of holes in the ground, and I was expecting a snake or some other unwelcome animal to make an appearance at any time. So I quickly decided on this composition.
OK, so it wasn’t all that bad. It could have been worse. I could have gotten a flat tire or run out of gas in the middle of this deserted place. And I did get a lot of reading done! After I got home, I realized that I had forgotten my flashlight too. I usually don’t need it, but I always like to bring it in case I do stay out a little later (or arrive before there’s any light at all). That’s strike three!
But in photography, you’re never out. I’ll just go back again, and eventually I’ll get to shoot those dunes.
To be continued….