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Twenty Mule Team Canyon – Death Valley National Park, CA – Part 1 – 2022

I had visited Death Valley National Park once before for about 12 hours so when I saw that Out of Chicago was putting on a 4-day conference there, I signed up!

I arrived in Furnace Creek, CA in Death Valley National Park just at check-in time at The Ranch at Death Valley.  I had a Welcome Meeting to attend so I found my room, unpacked, and headed to the outdoor meeting area behind the Borax Museum on the resort grounds.  This would be our gathering place for our meals and meetings for our time in Death Valley!  We were split into groups of 10 with whom we would be for the entire conference.  There were 14 instructors who had sent out pre-conference videos and some had even done pre-conference webinars!   We were all given group tables and a meeting place on the resort!  The instructors would move from group to group for each shooting session.

We met with our first instructor, Michael Shainblum, and he gave us an overview of the location, suggested gear, and told us to be at our meeting spot at 5:30 am so we could make the short drive to Twenty Mule Team Canyon.

This is where borax was mined and then carried across Death Valley and the mountains by twenty mule teams to processors in California to the west.

We drove to the Twenty Mule Team Canyon entrance road and made our way into the canyon.  At a spot that Michael had decided on we parked the cars, loaded up our gear, and climbed one of the many hills that are along the road.  The sun had not risen but it was beginning to get lighter as we found our spots to set up our tripods.  Michael told us that the view across from us would be good once the sun came up!  What he didn’t tell us was that it would change and would be several kinds of spectacular!

I was carrying my Nikon D850 with 70-22mm lens and my Nikon Z7 with Z 24-70 mm lens, I had my Peak Design carbon fiber travel tripod with my brand new Platyball Elite attached.

As soon as I was set up I started shooting.  The light was still very dim so my first keeper did not have much color so I converted to Black & White to show the great contrasts in the landscape.

Intimate Landscape – Very Early Before Sunrise. Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens.


Even before sunrise, the sky was lighting up the landscape across from us.

Skylit before sunrise. Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens


As the sun was about the rise the hills became even lighter and some other colors started to come through.

To the northwest as the sun was rising. Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens

Then suddenly I noticed that there was a lot of color coming through in one area so I zoomed in and made an image that set the tone for the rest of my time in Death Valley and is one of my favorites!  My understanding is that the colors are due to oxidized minerals in the hills.

It takes the right light to get this color! Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens.

As the sun started to get higher these hills were thrown into shadow so the colors got deeper with even more contrast!

In shadow – Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens

As these colors faded I looked out beyond the immediate landscape and started capturing a broader view.

S Curve of the road with the sky starting to color up! Nikon Z7 with 24-70mm lens.


As the sun rose over the eastern mountains it lit up the peaks on the western side of Death Valley! Nikon D850 with 70-200 mm lens.


As the sun got even higher it lit up the Twenty Mule Team Canyon peaks across from us but the light was starting to get very harsh so I made a few images with the intent to convert them to Balck and White.

Running Man! Nikon D850 with 70-200mm lens.


It was time to pack up, head back to the cars and get some breakfast!  I was sooo hungry!  It was 7:30 am but 10:30 am Florida time so I was starving!

My Shadow! I look so thin!!

This was a spectacular start to a wonderful few days!  After breakfast, we had a short time to rest or download images.  You know me…I had to see what I had so I downloaded!

Then we had some great table discussions, a panel discussion, then lunch.  After lunch, we met with our afternoon instructors and the instructors for the next morning. More on those in my next two blogs!

You have to check out Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  Try to get there early in the morning in January to see these amazing colors and contrasts.

Click on any image to see a larger version OR visit my gallery to see and purchase prints of these and additional images: Twenty Mule Team Canyon Gallery

My next blog will be on our late afternoon, into the evening, visit to the Mesquite Dunes.

That is all for now.


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