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Feb 24, 2020
Fall got off to a dry and warm start in California and Nevada. With almost no measurable precipitation in October and early November, we predicted that the Black Rock Desert Playa would be dry enough to drive on far later in the season than it normally would be. It turned out that we were right. We loaded up the Subaru with our camping gear, bikes, and two huskies, then headed northeast from Lake Tahoe with high pressure in the forecast.
The playa, a remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, becomes impassable at least 72 hrs after any precipitation. It often remains impassable throughout the winter, assuming that normal seasonable precipitation patterns continue. When the lake bed is dry, you can safely drive just about anywhere on it, which is truly a surreal experience. When it isn't completely dry, you risk getting stuck in the clay, regardless of what vehicle you are driving and what kind of tires you have on it. After a few close calls out there during previous road trips, I've become better at reading the playa and have learned not to underestimate how quickly one can become stuck in this remote area. If it isn't completely dry, I simply don't venture out there.
We spent the first night of our trip camping on the southeastern edge of the Black Rock Desert. Without any clouds in the sky, I was pessimistic about the sunset producing significant color. Sure enough, it was fairly uneventful and I mentally prepared myself to shoot the sunrise, regardless of how cold it would be and how tired I felt. Again, there were no clouds and I never found composition that drew me in. At this point I began to wonder if I would capture any landscape imagery worth publishing during this short, two night/three day trip. We entered the playa first thing in the morning and quickly became comfortable with the conditions. It was powder dry and immediately our concern about not being able to get around on it faded away. Our destination was a hot springs on the northern edge of the playa, about 30 miles north.
Driving on this ancient lake bed will make anyone feel small. It is a vast, seemingly barren landscape where powerful dust storms pass through on a regular basis and temperatures fluctuate dramatically both throughout the day and throughout the year.
Yuba and Echo were happy to run free on the lake bed and we were happy to be out there exploring it.
After reaching the northern edge of the playa we sought out a campsite with views that would make sense for shooting both the sunset and sunrise. With high clouds building late in the afternoon I became increasingly optimistic that the sunset would be compelling and produce significant color. I set up my tripod, dialed in my settings, and waited. When the sun first disappeared behind the mountains it looked like the colors were going to be muted, but good desert sunsets often don't follow any established rules and I've learned that you never want to give up on them until it is almost completely dark. Suddenly, the sky exploded with color and I knew I was about to be capturing a dramatic scene that would become a part of my Nevada gallery ...
While I really like the above image, it quickly became apparent that in this vast landscape, with vibrant colors stretching across it, I would also need to shoot a panorama to showcase the complete view as I experienced it.
At this point I could rest assured that I would not come home empty handed, as far as landscape imagery goes. But, I still set my alarm to shoot the sunrise and crawled out of my tent in the dark to see what would happen. I hiked around a bit, then noticed that the colors were most dramatic to the north, in the opposite direction I had shot the sunset. I was presented with another Black Rock scene that was very much worth capturing and waking up early for.
After a quick soak we headed south on the playa where we made lunch and rode our bikes. It was great to photograph these moments and even better just to be out there with Michelle and the dogs ...
As usual, thanks for following my work ...
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