Deal with the devil

Dante's View dawn

Last Labor Day weekend I shunted off to Lone Pine to visit my pal Laura. We were gonna talk shop about ESC4P, hold a board meeting, go to the hardware store, have coffee with Michele, and visit the aqueduct. Oh. And take some large format photos.
Laura is the kind of photographer who can take 12 sheets of film with her on a week-long excursion and come home with unused holders. She is the kind of person who can drive for hours looking looking looking for a shot and still come back with nothing. She is the sort of artist who will go back to the same place as many times as it takes to get the shot she wants.
I am none of those things. The fact that I do get some decent shots is probably due to a convergence of lucky error. I try to be scientific, pay attention to all parameters, meter meter and meter again, twiddle the knobs repeatedly, tilt, shift , rise, fall. All that’s left at that point is to keep my fingers crossed and throw some salt over my shoulder. Distressingly, my keeper rate remains at 50%. Or worse. Anyway, I digress.
I got to Laura’s abode on the Friday afternoon. I traveled over the Sonora Pass because of the fires in Yosemite blocking my usual path through Tuolumne Meadows. Terrible as those fires were, the smoke made the most incredible lighting and sunset. I even busted out my camera phone to take some shots. I don’t remember if that was before or after I ran over my sunglasses.
Driving around Lone Pine on Saturday, Laura announced that she felt we really must go to Death Valley. In September the valley lives up to its name and I didn’t relish taking photographs in 100-plus degree weather. Fortunately she qualified her suggestion with, “Dante’s View. Sunrise.” This was still pretty awful because sunrise happens in the morning—hateful time of day—and worse, it was at least 2 hours away. But she had been away from LF for some months so I figured anything that inspired her to take out the camera was good. Plus, I didn’t want her to allow her dog to burrow in my bed if I didn’t agree. That was before she told me I was driving. In my little gutless hybrid.
Anyway, off we went at dark thirty Sunday morning in search of a sunrise and glorious view. Our drive was disturbed by continual alerts that Death Valley was under a flash flood warning, getting more and more insistent as we traveled east and focusing on Hwy 190 and Dante’s View Road. Depending on our timing, we were either destined to miss the excitement or float along the valley floor. We must have been traveling much slower than the rain because all we were troubled by were some pretty deep puddles and a whole lotta mud on the road. Friends were busy texting us, “don’t go!” Boo. We would make a pact with the devil at Dante’s: you let us get there whole and take some pictures and you can have…um..something.
High above the valley floor, Dante’s View offers an incredible vista, and in the summer and fall, tolerable temperatures. So why was I surprised when we found several cars parked up there out of the heat? As my headlights swept over the vehicles and sleeping bags, Laura dropped her voice so it wouldn’t travel so far out the open windows. Screw that, I said, I don’t care if I wake anyone up. This ain’t no campground.
We got our stuff out and set up in the dark. I did one sheet for an hour, trained toward the hotel at Furnace Creek—the only light available and the only place I could possibly focus. Now that I think about it, I haven’t developed that film yet. That must be what’s on the single sheet in the bottom of the box of 8×10 T64.
At last, the sun started coming up. The parking lot had gained several more occupied sleeping bags along the sidewalk, clustered behind Laura’s tripod spot, and even more cars. The lone pickup truck revved its engine and headed down the hill to the bathroom. When it returned, the driver began offering everyone pancakes that he was set to make off the tailgate of his truck. In the glory of the rising sun (much as I hate morning, I do appreciate a sunrise) we were regaled with the exploits of pancake man. His chatter became increasingly unlikely and disturbed our concentration. He talked about his one day hike to the top of Mt Whitney and back, his many culinary and artistic skills, his world travels, his…yawn. He deluded himself that the young Englishwomen to whom he was speaking were interested in him and his exploits. He didn’t notice them actively packing up their car while he nattered–he was too busy inviting them on a night shoot in the dunes where he would photograph them using illuminated hula hoops. Oh yes please! Let me take off my clothes too! Luckily, by then I had found myself a nice quiet spot on a cliff where the only sound that reached me was the annoyance boiling in Laura’s veins. La la la la la.
After several shots, none of which was stellar except the one I haven’t developed, we headed down the hill to have breakfast. Unlike every other meal I’ve had at Furnace Creek, this one was hateful. Leaking coffee cup, curdled milk, ghastly selection of greasy food at the buffet. Walking out we realized that we could have ordered one of the decent looking things other folks were eating. Obviously, a Rice Crispies Treats and chocolate stock-up stop would soon be necessary.
By 5 in the morning it was 99 degrees in the valley, and yet there were tourist buses and people milling around. We cranked up the AC and headed back to cool Lone Pine for mint juleps and a nap. We held up pretty well for a couple of old ladies. Now, had I lost the other glasses by then or not?
Update: Today I developed the two color shots I took at Dante’s View. Thank you devil: I decided you can have them stinkin’ glasses cuz these two pictures are keepers.

One thought on “Deal with the devil

  1. good story.. After living in CA for 60 yrs I’ve not made it to Death Valley yet. Hopefully in the spring of 2014… The sand is running out in my hour glass so I figure I better make it soon.. Maybe we will have a wet winter that helps the wild flowers sprout there. I am looking forward to making some MF and 4×5 chromes. Any pointers would be appreciated….

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