Finding Beauty in Death (Valley)

Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador Peter Coskun. See more of Peter's work on his website, and check him out on Instagram.
I remember the very first trip I made to Death Valley National Park. It was in 2013 and it was rather miserable. It wasn't so much the heat that made it miserable, but the high winds that almost took my camera away and in some instances almost swept me off my feet. I was only able to see two areas of the park as it was a very brief spur of the moment detour from the winds around the Eastern Sierra. I walked maybe 100 yards out to the mesquite dunes, took a single photo and then went to Zabriskie Point to try my hand at capturing this parks' stark beauty. I didn't quite come away with any images I was truly proud of, and even thought in the moment that I would never return to this place. You know how first impressions are.
I knew I would have to return again though, so I did so in 2014, then again in 2015, didn't make it in 2016, so I made up for that with two trips in 2017, and visited as recently as this past March 2018. It has become one of my favorite destinations to create photographs as well as escape and connect with nature and the wild. It's always interesting telling people when I am traveling there, because everyone thinks that Death Valley is just a wasteland devoid of any form of life or beauty. They always assume I'll die or something. However, that couldn't be further from the truth and I come back alive and better than ever after a few days wandering the landscape.
I have found this park to be one of the most stunning and diverse landscapes in the west. Not only can you visit the lowest elevation below sea level in the lower 48, but you can often look at snow capped mountains from the same spot during the winter and early spring months. On some occasions the landscape is carpeted in spring wildflowers filling the air with aromas so sweet that often times you forget you are in the desert. I've been fortunate to witness a flooded Badwater basin after winter rains and stand beneath the milky way as it reflects off the calm waters and salt patterns. I recently got to experience a windy morning at the dunes photographing the sand blowing off and across the dune ridges. I would imagine that these are things the average person will never experience nor would they find them enjoyable. However, it really is impressive what you can find throughout the park and much of it is so remote that it is hardly seen at all. 
One thing I am sure people tend to overlook in this park, and I would imagine almost any other place as well, are the little scenes. I've found numerous patterns while walking across the salt and mud playas creating intimate portraits of cracked mud, colorful rocks and salt crystal patterns. There are so many interesting patterns and textures throughout the park that you could have blue skies every day and create a unique image. Death valley is just one of those places that there is always something to photograph whether it is with a wide angle lens, a macro lens, regular zoom lens, and even super telephoto lenses. All it takes is a little bit of time to start to really see the beauty that can be found throughout Death Valley National Park. Every time I leave, I find myself waiting to return again to see more of it's magnificence.  

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