Adventures at Mesquite Flat


Last spring, I journeyed to Death Valley National Park as the last stop in a series of expeditions to iconic natural locations across the state of California. The project was to capture scenic footage and timelapse for Teton Gravity Research's backcountry snowboarding film "Further," although most of my footage didn't make the final cut and probably won't come out until the final film in the trilogy ("Higher") due to lack of snow in california in 2012). On the afternoon I made this photograph, I had planned to shoot the sunset at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes just off the highway east of Stovepipe Wells.

I had just parked on the side of the highway and begun to gather my gear from the trunk of my car, when I heard a hissing sound coming from the back of the car. Sure enough, I had a flat tire. Luckily for me, before I drove from Tahoe to DV I had stopped in Carson City and purchased a full-size spare tire in anticipation of driving out to the Racetrack Playa by myself. Knowing the nature of the rocks on that long uppaved road, I thought it mgiht be wise to hedge my bets with a full-size spare.

Standing by the hissing tire, I looked at my watch and figured that I could go shoot the sunset and change the tire when I got back to the car at dusk, so I wouldn't miss the light. After about an hour shooting the sunset (see above), I hiked back to the car and discovered to my horror, that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't budge the lugnuts with the miniature wrench that came with my Subaru. I even tried standing on it, and smashing it down with a large boulder. I hailed the first passing car, but even their lug wrench was uselessly the wrong size.

I pondered my options - there was about two inches of air left in the tire, and Furnace Creek was about 35 miles away. Dusk looked to last aroudn anotehr half hour unti the day transitioned into pure blackness. I decided I had no chance but to go for it.

I made record time going 70 mph, and pulled into Furnace Creek just in time to see the service station guy closing for the night. I begged him to use a real tire iron, and he was ncie enough (for $40) to open the garage back up and use his air socket wrench to crack the lug nuts off and put my full size spare on. He said he's patch the tire first thing in the morning, so I went off to sleep for a few hours before waking up to head out to Badwater to shoot a timelapse of the milky way.

In the morning, on about three hours of sleep, I returned to the service station, and perplexingly found it locked, but I could see my freshly patched tire sitting on the tire rack. I waited an hour for the guy to show back up, and sure enough he enver showed. Finally, I called the Furnace Creek management, from whom I lshockingly learned that the nice man who had saved my trip had had a stroke that very monring in the service station and was transported by ambulance to Pahrump.

I grabbed my tire, and headed to the Racetrack, and I never did find out what happened to this kind stranger.