Feel the Heat – Death Valley

The digital thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center displays 132 Fahrenheit at 3:39pm on June 30, 2013. The correct temperature was 129 Fahrenheit as officially read and reported by the National Park Service at 4pm. This is a new high temperature record for June 30. Death Valley National Park, California.By now you’ve likely heard that Death Valley set a new high temperature record on Sunday, June 30, 2013: 129 Fahrenheit. I have a long history in Death Valley and spend a lot of time in the Park each year (DeathValleyPhotoTours), so when the prognostications started flying regarding Death Valley’s potential to break its own heat record (134F, recorded July 10, 1913) I had to be there.

We arrived at the Badwater parking lot just after 2pm, our target time. There were a surprising number of people: Europeans are known to relish this heat and enjoy summer holidays in Death Valley. CNN was also present, talking with tourists and conducting a classic solar-radiation-egg-frying experiment in the parking lot (unfortunately, too many are conducting this experiment). Our thermometers indicated the temperature was around 121-122F, which was confirmed by CNN. I was initially disappointed. I expected Badwater to be HOT HOT (the Weatherspace.com believes it was hotter).

We moved on to the Furnace Creek Resort, where outside the general store hung an old analog thermometer with its needle beyond its maximum high temperature of 130F. We enjoyed the oven-like concentration of heat under the shade of the date palms. Even in the shade, the breeze was akin to the heat blast you receive when you open an oven door. It felt hotter than Badwater.

We moved over to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center after 3:30pm to find a throng of tourists, media, and two guys dressed in Darth Vader and Chewbacca outfits. The digital sign out front displayed 132F, although this thermometer is affected by direct solar radiation and is inaccurate. Just minutes later at 4pm the National Park Service took its official reading of 129 degrees Fahrenheit.

Around 4pm we were ten miles north of Furnace Creek moving towards Stovepipe Wells (and eventually the cooler heights of the Panamint Mountains) when the air conditioning failed in my wife’s car! It was fine by us, but extra measures were required to keep our dog Mojave cool in the 120F+ temperatures while we moved across the desert. We arrived at Mahogany Flats around 5pm where the temperature was beautiful and the high views of the hot desert sublime.

Indeed, 120F+ is HOT, but if one is dressed properly, well hydrated, in good health and operating smartly, it’s not near as bad as you’d believe. It occurred to me upon my arrival home that in calendar year 2013 I’ve experienced a temperature swing in Death Valley National Park of 126 degrees: It was 3F on the Racetrack on a bitterly cold January morning, and 129F at Furnace Creek on June 30. Death Valley: The Land of Extremes.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. Please visit his official website  for more information.

Epilogue: Visionary Death Valley

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Visionary Death Valley – Thank you!

Guy Tal and I concluded last week our second sold out Visionary Death Valley workshop of 2012.  It is always our great pleasure to work with such fine people and photographers, and we sincerely THANK Robert, Steve, Carol, Hoa, Andy, Dan, Joe, Bennett, Kurt, and Huibo for making this one a success. We really enjoyed your company and camaraderie.

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Burn baby, burn. An incredible pre-sunrise glow over Zabriskie Point and the Panamint Mountains.

December and January are my favorite times to be in Death Valley. Whether a personal outing, group workshop, or private tour, I get to spend many days in the Park during these months, and this is when winter’s weather is most likely to decorate the skies with color and the higher peaks with snow. This Visionary Death Valley workshop was no different, and we were in fact blessed with incredible light and color every morning and evening! What a show we were blessed to enjoy.

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Windstorm on the Racetrack

We were witness to spectacular atmospheric events, which included a sudden windstorm that overtook our group while we were on the Racetrack. Although direct light never hit the playa while we there, what was occurring all around us was an incredible sight to behold. The Grandstand would disappear in a cloud of dust from time to time, and unfortunately so would some of our group! A lesson for all desert photographers: Pin down whatever you’re not currently using, and never take your eyes off your tripod. High winds tried the patience of our group at times – a couple of cameras went down – yet bitter weather produced remarkable and unforgettable results.

Sunrise over Badwater Basin

Sunrise over Badwater Basin

We were fortunate to experience an absolutely ridiculous sunrise over Badwater. Ridiculous? Photographers who spend enough time outside inevitably witness numerous beautiful sunrises/sunsets. So many that they can become cliche and easy to take for granted. I consider a sunrise/set ridiculous when it outright trumps your memories of any of the previous 100. That’s what we had at Badwater.

Glory light over Death Valley

Glory light over Death Valley

The above sunrise photograph is straight out of the camera. I moved NO sliders, added nothing, took nothing away. I only resized for this post and converted the file to the Adobe sRGB color space. Trust me – you would have called this sunrise ridiculous if you had been there with us.

Visionary Death Valley concluded my group workshops for 2012, but the 2013 season starts right up in early January. There is ONE spot remaining in my January 9-14 workshop with Andy Biggs, and a few spots remain in the February 2013 Visionary Death Valley workshop. Please don’t delay as these are expected to sell out. There is still availability in Feb and March 2013 for my private Death Valley photo tours.

Photographer on the dunes

Photographer on the dunes

THANKS again to Robert, Steve, Carol, Hoa, Andy, Dan, Joe, Bennett, Kurt, and Huibo for joining us in Death Valley and making the workshop a success!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Par Excellence

I have always been a competitive individual. In my earliest years, I dreamed of making the annals of baseball history. In my early adult life, as a guitar player of many years and co-writer in an original band, I loathed the idea of sounding only as good as other guitar players and writing average music. In later years, I chased challenging routes in rock climbing and mountaineering and aimed to have endless stamina and climb in good style. I haven’t yet discovered what drives my competitive nature, but being second always seemed like not winning to me. Call this character trait what you will, but I believe without a doubt that it has fueled my drive for photographic excellence. Whether anyone else believes in my excellence is irrelevant. My goal has never been to be a “better” photographer than others, but to instead always be continuously pushing my photographic boundaries and striving for excellence.

As we watch the 2012 Olympics and the world’s most incredible athletes dig their deepest and fight their hardest – and breaking numerous world records while doing so – we are reminded that there will never be any substitutes for vision, hard work, and dogged determination. Those “overnight” sensations you only recently learned about have been quietly training for years in the background, while others have managed to effectively use smart marketing and social media to immediately convince others of their excellence. Even if there were a metric by which your work could be judged, whether anyone else believes that you are the “best” at what you do is not the point, but the moment you lower your standard and settle for “good enough”, you deny your creativity and greatness.

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I’m not the most prolific blogger, I know, but this post marks #199 since this blog’s humble beginnings on September 20, 2006. 200 is no special number, but it’s a nice even number which took some time for this blog to reach. What should I discuss? I humbly request your topic suggestions for my 200th blog post.

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There are only two spots remaining in our November Visionary Death Valley workshop. Guy Tal and I invite you to join us for more in-depth discussions on excellence, creativity, style, and more during this exciting adventure.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Visionary Death Valley Photography Workshop Epilogue

Visionary Death Valley Photography Workshop, February 2012

Guy Tal and I concluded our February 2012 Visionary Death Valley (VDV) photography workshop last Wednesday on Death Valley NP’s Eureka Dunes, and to summarize our workshop with just one word: INCREDIBLE. We had a most wonderful group of participants who were engaged and inspired. We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to share our passion for creative photography and Death Valley National Park with a select group of individuals who are eager to move forward on their creative journeys.

Our workshop explored and photographed some of Death Valley’s most well known features – the vast Dante’s View; the surreal Badwater; the cosmic Racetrack; the sensual Mesquite Sand Dunes – as well as lesser known but no less extraordinary locations that are exclusive to Visionary Death Valley. VDV blends the perfect mixture of field photography, field classes, and a post-production classroom session (with laptops and projection) along with inspirational and philosophical discussions designed to challenge photographers to rethink the way they work and photograph. There are many photography workshops and instruction manuals that teach craft and technique; we’ve designed Visionary Death Valley to lead photographers towards the heart of their art.

A few workshop highlights: A brief but intense sunrise at Dante’s View; a downright ridiculous flaming sunset on our last night out with the Eureka Dunes extension group (see image at left); investigating incredible marine fossils and petroglyphs; the largest engulfing dust storm I’ve ever experienced in Death Valley (this occurred during preparations a few days before we first met our group); and F18 fighter jets screaming over Eureka Dunes at low elevations (it’s a violation of the wilderness experience, yet hard not to be awed by).

Guy and I would like to sincerely thank Anil, Annette, Bob, Don, Jon, Michael, Paige, Ron, Stephanie, and Tina for being part of the first of our Visionary workshop series and for being wonderful students and humans. We truly enjoyed your company and learning about each of you over those tiring but exciting days. We wish you well on your creative photographic journeys!

Our next Visionary Death Valley workshop is scheduled for November 29 – December 4, 2012 and you are all invited. We are also currently in the planning stages of Visionary Capitol Reef (Utah) in 2013. Please stay tuned for more information.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

My 2010 Workshops and Tours

Large Format Photographer in the Alabama Hills

My first private workshop of 2010 took place last weekend (January 9-10) in the remarkable Alabama Hills and Owens Valley, California. David, Sue, and Erik Haake (David is the Program Director for the West Los Angeles Group of the Sierra Club) hired me for a day of Large Format photography instruction with Erik on Saturday in the Alabama Hills (Erik is seen in the photo at left shooting sunrise in the Alabama Hills), and on Sunday we toured a few special locations in and around the Owens Valley (concluding our tour at an incredible and hidden petroglyph panel in the Volcanic Tablelands). David and Sue are avid birders, and although I can’t currently call myself an avid birder, it is something I have spent a fair amount of time doing in the past and I do have a fair number of species on my life list (even though I don’t keep a life list!). Incidentally, the scope of my guiding was altered last weekend, and according to Sue: “you were a wonderful birding guide to top it off.” Thanks, David, Sue, and Erik, for being wonderful clients!

I am currently have one scheduled 2010 group workshop and three more in the planning stages for this year:

    Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop. February 13-14, 2010, Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra (just outside Lone Pine, California). Limited to only 5 photographers; $349 per person. My teaching methods and techniques are direct and easy to comprehend, and I will successfully put you in full control of your camera. At the completion of this intensive two-day workshop, you will be able to efficiently and confidently compose, focus, and expose your own photographs. Click here for more information and to register for this workshop.

    March 6-7, 2010 California Desert Wildflower tour: Our “wet season” started wet (despite the name, it doesn’t always work this way!) and although we had a recent dry and warm spell, things are slated to turn again next week and the state of California should again get quite wet. This may bode well for spring wildflowers in the desert. But my intention is to only lead a tour (likely a one day driving tour) if I can *guarantee* good blooms at the best locations (desert wildflowers are wildly unpredictable). Only time will tell, and I’ll be updating this blog as things develop.

    October 2010 Eastern Sierra Autumn Color Tour: Fall color varies from year to year, but it’s always predictable enough to guarantee great photographs under incredible settings. I’m tentatively planning a three-day tour during the first week of October. The tour will range from Mono Lake in the north to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the south.

    Nov-Dec 2010 Death Valley National Park Backcountry 4WD Workshop/Tour: We will spend about a week driving, hiking, and photographing locations that most photographers have no idea even exist! I have personally driven most of Death Valley National Park backcountry roads (including the most difficult and challenging) and have hiked and photographed locations well off the beaten track. Had enough of Zabriskie Point, Badwater, and the Mesquite Flat dunes? Come tour with me. Logistically speaking, unless I can locate and work with an authorized 4WD outfitter for Death Valley NP (I am currently at work on this), each client will need to provide their own 4WD and advanced driving experience. I’ll continue to update my blog as details develop.

If you have interest in any of these workshops/tours, please leave me a reply or shoot me an email.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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