On Friday, around 3:30, we gathered our stuff and drove a mile up to Mosaic Canyon. The canyon has been through a few floods since last we were there and rock that I call “Angel fat” because it usually looks rounded and golden-white, was grubby and broken. But the walk still starts with a few dramatic narrow twists before the wash broadens out. Usually, we go maybe half a mile before it gets too hot and we turn back. But it wasn’t too hot, so we continued slogging through the gravel wash and saw some nicely colored formations.
Back at the parking lot, our parting gift was the final glow of sun on the nearby golden rock formations.
Sunset, later that night.
Dave found a hike we had never done, so on Saturday, we loaded up the Rav and drove 30 miles over the Panamint Mountains to the tiny hamlet of Panamint Springs. The valley we crossed before reaching the town still had some water from the February rains and the clouds were wonderful.
We eventually found the bumpy, unpaved road to Darwin Falls. Two miles later, we were at the trailhead. It’s about a mile to the falls but the trail is easy to follow because a narrow water pipeline accompanies it all the way. I’m pretty sure the water this pipe conveys is how the town survives.
Halfway to the falls, a small stream appears. It is wonderful to see water in such a dry area. After a few stream crossings and rock scrambling, we made it to the tiny clearing in front of the impressive Darwin Falls.
I was anxious to get back to Panamint Springs because I had seen a sign offering ice cream and milk shakes. Alas, the ice cream was anemic Blue Bunny bars and the milk shake machine “…wasn’t working too good.” The wind was picking up as we started the drive back and the alkali was flying.
The Sunday weather wasn’t looking too good – high winds that meant flying sand and dust. We decided to hike into the west end of Titus Canyon, a lovely place that we couldn’t drive through because of winter road repairs. Dave thought that the wind might not be so bad in the tight twists of the narrow gorge. Going to Titus meant driving past the Mesquite Sand Dunes. The winds were already “picking up”.
The wind was blowing pretty good when we entered Titus Canyon. I was experienced in the way of wearing contact lenses – I didn’t. I wore my ancient prescription granny glasses that always make my stomach churn when I move my head – peripheral vision is really different with glasses. Usually, we hike Titus on a hot afternoon; this time, a cool breeze made the walk a pleasure. For a while.
The magic of Titus Canyon always entrances me. On my first photographic workshop in 1979 (thank you, Stephan Johnson), I got to ride through Titus on the wooden platform that George Ward (rest his soul) had built on the roof of his camper. Seeing the glowing silver and apricot colors of the rock was awe-inspiring.
As we wandered along, gusts of wind increased in frequency, duration and intensity. It was unusual and kind of fun. For a while. Pretty soon, the view in front of us became hazy from all the particulate matter in the air.
We decided to find a sheltered space for lunch, then head out of the canyon. Being removed from the wind let us hear it roaring as it approached. As we started back, sometimes the wind was in our face; sometimes at our back. Sand and small gravel started to sting us. I had to tuck my shirt collar under my backpack straps because it was snapping against me. Occasionally, the gusts got so strong I had to hold Dave’s hand to keep my balance. We think they were somewhere around 30 or 40 mph, but maybe more. I have never experienced winds like that before.
We got back to the car and watched sand fly as we had our coffee and the last of my chocolate chip cookies. The trip home was pretty much like the trip out – windy with low visibility.
We were horrified when we got back to the rig. Worried about how hot it would be inside when we returned, we had left a couple of vents cracked open and the kitchen and bathroom windows open. BIG, BIG mistake! The wind had come in the opposite direction from what we expected. There was sand everywhere. So we got to clean house for the next two hours and clean house some more the next day. We won’t do that again.
Monday was our final attempt at the dunes. Once again, we rose before dawn and this time walked further east to different sand piles. I was somewhat disappointed – I didn’t seem to find a good vantage spot for sunrise. But when I looked at images later, I liked some of the results.
Finally, the sun hit the dunes around 7:50 a.m.
By 8:10, the wind was blowing pretty good. Photography became difficult. We moved off the dune crests. Blowing sand softened all the images.
So what to do if you can’t shoot far? Shoot near.