The Illuminating Lens

Desert Mud Cracks? Death Valley National Park, CA – Part 8 – 2022

When you think of the desert, the last thing you think of is mud!  But sometimes there is rain and runoff in the spring and then you get mud.  With some time and a bit of drying, you get mud cracks!

So what is so great about mud cracks?  They can be large (see Part 5), small, or very small.  In Death Valley National Park we have a tendency to concentrate on the wide view.  Although I did make a lot of wide-angle images, I also made a bunch of more intimate landscapes using my longer lens.  So as a complete change I switched and pointed the camera straight down at the very interesting landscape the mud cracks made!

Having seen the larger mud cracks a few days earlier, I was very excited when, at one of our group meals, (always the best place to pick up new and interesting info) I heard about a specific spot where smaller mud cracks could be found.

I had some time before my flight was leaving over in Las Vegas so I made a quick stop at this spot on the playa.  These mud crack spots can be any place on the playa.  If there has been no water flow recently, there will be no mud cracks.  So as you travel around the playa, be on the lookout for these crackly areas.

I could have used a tripod but since it was packed in my suitcase I went handheld.  I used my Nikon Z7 and 24-70mm f4 Z lens, which does a great job of focusing up close.

The spot I had heard about was not far off Badwater Rd so I found a spot to park, pulled the gear out, and walked out onto the playa.  As I walked I began to notice that the mud cracks were all over the place.

Mud Cracks 1


A found a rock that was surrounded by cracks, a mini version of my favorite subject when we shot the larger cracks (see Part 5 ).

The Rock!


As I wandered around I realized that the crack patterns varied everywhere I looked.

Natures Tire Tracks. Naturally occurring cracks!


In some spots, the cracks had started to curl giving a more 3D look.

Curls shot from a slight side angle.


I was doing this shoot in the middle of the day so the lighting was not the greatest, but I was still happy with the contrasts that the lighting was giving me.

Golden Cracks. – Post-Processed with a Golden Tint.


As I looked a bit closer I started to see shapes and patterns in the cracks…maybe I was staring a bit too closely!

Trees in a Forest Mud Cracks.


A River Flowing Through the Mountains!


I found some animal tracks that were captured when the surface was still wet.

Animal Crossing


There were a few dead plants in the area and I thought adding them to the mud crack images would be interesting.

Shadows and Mud Cracks.


Cracks and Branches.


To get a sense of the place where I was shooting I pulled back and made this wider view.

Mud Cracks Across the Playa


I continued to walk out on the playa and found more interesting shapes in the cracks.

The Mud Crack Leaf


The Surface of Mars!


Mud Crack Heart!


Topo Map with a Great Lake!


And as my time on the mudflats of the playa was coming to a close, I found one last shape!

The Fist of Power!


I know this is all a bit weird but I was fascinated by the abstract images and shapes that I was seeing as I moved about and went up and down with my camera.   Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to see patterns in a random stimulus.  My pareidolia is always strong but it was going crazy this day!

So, when and wherever you get a chance to shoot mud cracks, do it.  It is so much fun!  Let your pareidolia go wild!

This is the final of 8 posts on my visit to Death Valley National Park!  Please read and enjoy the images from this amazing visit that was made so much more amazing by the instructors and attendees of the Out of Death Valley Conference orchestrated by the wonderful Out of Chicago Group!  I highly recommend visiting Death Valley (in the winter) and please check out all the conferences and other educational opportunities provided by Out of Chicago.

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

My next series of blog posts will be on my spring visit to Pennsylvania in the Philadelphia area.

That is all for now.


Lynn Wiezycki

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