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Death Valley National Park is one of my favorite US parks. Located in the Mohave Desert in southern California, it encompasses mountains, playas, salt basins, slot canyons and several dune fields. Of the dunes, the most easily accessible are the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. A quick 30 minute walk will put you at the base of the nearest dunes. Unfortunately the nearness of these dunes makes them the most visited, and by afternoon, covered in tracks. So, the best plan is to get up early and hope that night winds will have scoured away the last traces of human visitation.
This was my first visit to the Mesquite Dunes, and I was uncertain what the wind and dust would be like. So in addition to my then brand new Canon 5D MkII and a wide angle lens, I brought along my venerable Canon 20D with a 70-200mm zoom mounted, eliminating the need to change lenses.
As luck would have it, I wasn’t the first to arrive at the farthest reaches of the dune field. I found this fellow had set up in front of a beautifully curved and side-lit dune. Normally I wait patiently for people to step out of my composition, but in this instance the figure brings a useful sense of scale to the photo. In addition, being a landscape photographer, he illustrates perfectly what our pursuit is all about.
This is a single exposure processed in Lightroom. A gradient filter was applied to bring down the exposure of the background. I find the atmospheric haze helpful in keeping the viewer’s focus (pun intended) on the dunes.