Favorite Places

Favorite Places: Black Rock Desert

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The Black Rock Desert is one of my favorite places to photograph. Infinite opportunties abound to explore this remote, exotic landscape. The playa , as the desert is known, lies in northwestern Nevada, about three hours north east of Truckee, and approxiamtely two hours north of Reno.

Once covered by a vast lake, the Black Rock is now a parched, vast alkaline expanse. The world land speed record was set here in 1997, when Briton Andy Green drove his vehicle ThrustSSC 763.035mph (Mach 1.016).

Trees!

One of the best aspects of the playa is that every year the desert changes due to the fluctuations in weather from year to year, offering unique and changing opportunitites to photographers.

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In some years, the desert is completely dry. In others, like in 2010, water stands on the surface of the playa through the spring and early summer months. These conditions can make for difficult exploration, as the wet playa is extremely impassable.

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In other years, the playa is dry and the only water for hundreds of miles sits in scalding hot springs at the edges of the desert. One can only imagine what the first California empigrants thought a few hundred years ago when they came down into this arid land, thirsty and starving.

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The Black Rock also plays host to the Burning Man festival. I've been going out to the desert for the last twelve years. Last year, I joined an incredible crew of people who built a replica of a 1600s-era Spanish galleon. My contribution to the project was to install a pressurized LPG flame effects system, which lit up the ship nicely at night.

Ship and pier blend_flat

The Black Rock is always fun to visit. Learn more about the Black Rock in an article I wrote for the website Unofficial Networks., or visit Friends of Black Rock. better yet, hop in the car and drive out there!

Favorite Places: Racetrack Playa

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Death Valley's Racetrack Playa is one of my favorite places in the world. I've been there several times over the past ten years, having fisrst visited it on a geology field trip in college.  Racetrack Milky Way Pano

There are few places on this earth that can boast rocks that move on their own - this place. The NPS website says:

Moving Rocks To see the moving rocks, drive two miles south of the Grandstand parking area. Walk at least a half mile toward the southeast corner of the playa for the best views of rocks and their tracks on the playa. Erosional forces cause rocks from the surrounding mountains to tumble to the surface of the Racetrack. Once on the floor of the playa the rocks move across the level surface leaving trails as records of their movements. Some of the moving rocks are large and have traveled as far as 1,500 feet. Throughout the years many theories have been suggested to explain the mystery of these rock movements. A research project has suggested that a rare combination of rain and wind conditions enable the rocks to move. A rain of about 1/2 inch, will wet the surface of the playa, providing a firm but extremely slippery surface. Strong winds of 50 mph or more, may skid the large boulders along the slick mud.

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Visting the Racetrack is not easy - it lies at the end of a 40+ mile dirt road made from sharp rocks and washboard. But it is one of the most spectacularly weird landscapes on this planet.

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If you haven't been there, you should definitely add it to your list of places to visit the next time you are in Death Valley!

Favorite Places: Donner Lake

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Every photographer has their local "go-to" spot that they can hop in the car /jump on their bike and get to in 5 minutes to blow off some steam with shutter therapy after a long day in front of the computer. Mine is Donner Lake, located right here in Truckee, California.  Even though it is 90% surrounded by houses, Donner Lake is remarkably beautiful to photograph if you work hard to find the right angles and the conditions converge to bring good light.

Sunrise over Donner

Sometimes the lake even freezes over to the point where people drag couches out onto it and play hockey.

Sailing stones on Donner Lake

The lake has even  been known to have it's own sailing stones, like those on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.