The Illuminating Lens

Artist Drive – Death Valley National Park, CA – Part 7 – 2022

On the last morning in Death Valley, we finally were hitting one of the most popular areas in the park, Artist Drive.

I had visited this area on my last visit but like most of the other locations, the time of day we visited was all wrong!  This visit was definitely showing me that!

Details from Wikipedia

Artist Drive rises up to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).

Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1,500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.

Our Visit

We arrived at the drive (a 9-mile one-way loop off of Badwater Rd south of Furnace Creek) while it was still dark.  Leading the way was our instructor for this location, Joshua Cripps.  We wound around the paved road, passing by the parking lot that is near the Artist’s Palette area.  We eventually came to a spot where we could park all our cars and unload our gear.  Joshua took us up a trail that took us up one of the ridges that surround the road.

The group split up heading to different vantage points.   As the sky started to light up I grabbed a shot of the still dark landscape with the color just popping in the eastern sky.

Before Sunrise – iPhone 12 Max Pro


As on our first day, at Twenty Mule Team Canyon, as the sun rose the colors in the surrounding ridges changed and brightened.

The Color before Sunrise. Nikon Z7 on DX mode with FTZ and 70-200mm lens


As the sun started to peek over the eastern ridges, it began to light up the mountains on the opposite side of Death Valley, so I zoomed into Telescope Peak for a view of the snow-covered mountain.

Telescope Peak – Zikon Z7 in DX mode with FTZ and 70-200 mm lens.


As the sun rose, I turned my camera in different directions to see how the light was changing the colors.

Sun coloring the distance mountain tops – Nikon Z7 in DX mode with 24-70mm lens.


I noticed that the wife of one of the photographers, with her red jacket, was exploring again, so I turned the lens on her to give some perspective on the size of all this!

The Vastness of the Landscape! Nikon Z7 in DX mode with 24-70mm lens.


The sun had finally risen above the ridge and showed the colors the Artist’s Palette is known for.

Artists Palette from afar!  Nikon Z7 in DX mode with 24-70mm lens.


At this point, I thought I was in a good position to create a panorama from my perch above Artist Drive.  For once I used my Nikon Z7 instead of my iPhone to create this image.

The panoramic view! 24 images shot vertically and stitched in Lightroom. Nikon Z7 in DX mode with 24-70mm lens.


As the light started to get too bright and our stomachs were growling for our last breakfast in Death Valley, I took one last shot!

The Beauty and Vastness of Death Valley! – iPhone 12 Max Pro


We gathered at the cars, had Joshua take a group photo, and then we headed back to the resort to eat and pack up to leave.

You must visit Artist Drive and Artist Palette when you visit Death Valley.  I highly recommend hitting it in the very early morning for the best light!

Click on any image to see a larger version OR visit my gallery to see and purchase prints of these and additional images: Artist Drive 

This was our final group shooting location but I had heard about a small spot on the playa where the mud cracks were amazing so Part 8 will be a post on that quick but productive stop as I was on my way out of Death Valley!

That is all for now.


Lynn Wiezycki

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