Death Valley

June 02, 2022  •  1 Comment


My name is Chad Tuthill. I am one half of a photography team consisting of me and my wife Lindsey called Zoetic Photography. For the past 7 years, we’ve been focusing on portraits of families, kids, babies, and couples, and are happily continuing to do so! But after the last 2 years of going through what everybody is going through in one way or another and to varying degrees, we’ve set out to reconnect with the world in another way. 


Photographing nature and environment can be such an emotional way to engage the earth. You can simultaneously experience the physical space - the texture of the ground, the temperature of the air, the energy of any surrounding people, the smell of specific plants - and also the artistic interpretation of what you are witnessing. You can home in on exactly what inspires you, what you are feeling, and with your personal definition of beauty. You can remind people what is both ephemeral and eternal about the planet, you can give people the inspiration they need to set out on their own explorations, and you can give people the opportunity to gain perspective from your own point of view. 


This is what we want to invite into our lives and yours as we move into an additional phase of sharing our photography and experiences with you. We do this in the hopes that we can all stay in touch with themes that are much larger than the fast moving twists and turns of the present and stay connected to universal events outside of our limited existence. Whether it’s capturing the stars at night only visible in the dark desert sky, or documenting crumbling mountains millions of years in the making, meditating on spaces where water meets land, or honoring the paths that take us there, we want to be a source of inspiration for travel, exploration, and enjoying what it means to be a human on earth right now. 


And we are going to start with the journey to...


D E A T H  V A L L E Y 



Death Valley never seemed like a place you actually go - more like a reference to a hell-scape from which there is no return. The name lurks in the background, proof of earth’s ability to obliterate any hope of the survival of those who dare traverse the desolate domain.


Of course, nothing could be further from the reality of what Death Valley actually has to offer. It is true that it can be dangerous - some days have reached upwards of 134 degrees, and with little cell reception you had better hope your car is in perfect working order. But this is not the norm for the largest national park in the contiguous Unites States. Outside of the dead heat of the summer months July and August, it can range from straight up cold to downright pleasant. As was the case for us when we spent the first days of May in the Valley. Approaching from where we live in San Diego county, it took just about 5 hours to get there. It’s a straight shot up the 15 until you hit the town of Baker, where you should stop to gas up (last “reasonable” gas prices available before hitting the park) and maybe grab something from Alien Jerky (trippy novelty shop that was far busier than it seemed like it should be, but somehow still worth poking around).



And just down the road from there is a photographer’s dream site - the Royal Hawaiian motel, perfectly demonstrating what a post apocalyptic world could become when law and order run for the hills and leave behind the keys for anarchy. We absolutely had to stop and do a mini shoot in that rare environment.



And then on to Death Valley for the final stretch down the 127 until you hit the 190 that takes you right into the park.



T H E  O A S I S


The Oasis at Death Valley is impossible to miss - it literally looks like an oasis surrounded by groves of palm trees sprung right out of the mountains’ edge. There are two Oasis properties separated by about a mile. The Inn at Death Valley is going for a more upscale luxury vibe with its big, beautiful pool and costly restaurant. Down the road a piece, you come to the Ranch at Death Valley. This is where we stayed and we definitely recommend it. It has a cool ranchy vibe with a perfect amount of conveniences to make it more than worthwhile.



The general store has everything you could want or need - great coffee, pre-made sandwiches, ice cream, keepsakes, and potato salad. What else could you possibly want?!



There are also THREE other eating options on site. The ice cream shop, which in addition to fantastic ice cream has great hamburgers and hot dogs, presents a really throwback diner feel that was very much appreciated.



There’s also a full buffet available in the 1849 Restaurant (though we did not try this because we preferred the other options).



If all that wasn’t enough, they also have The Last Kind Words Saloon, which is a legit saloon with fantastic decor, good food (though a bit pricey), and lots of drink options. 



The Ranch also offers a pool with a hot tub (though again we did not utilize them) and a couple tennis courts for those that would like to work out in Death Valley. 


The room accommodations are far more than decent and provide a great space for chilling between adventures. The AC in our room was a bit ridiculously loud and a double sink would have been ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers and this place more than took care of us during our stay. It is perfectly located in the park to put you only short drives away from so many incredible things to check out!


B A D W A T E R  B A S I N


Heading out from the ranch puts you on the 190 again which leads you to Badwater Road, where you will find the opportunity to stop and have many different experiences as you go. You really start to understand the full reality of the Valley title as you become surrounded by never-ending mountains on both sides while driving deeper into the Valley of Death. About 13 miles in, you come to a parking lot and stairs descending down to Badwater Basin. This is thee lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at -282 feet below sea level. The words “Sea Level” posted high up on the towering mountain behind the road really put into perspective just how deep the basin actually is. As you make your way across the boardwalk leading you straight into the basin, the milky-colored floor stretches out for miles and miles and feels impossibly vast. The soft crunch of what you come to realize is pure salt beneath your shoes (better make it hiking boots for your stay in DV) is a most surprising development. You soon discover the salt flats with its strange and other-worldly geometric hexagons of crystallized salt rising out of the very dirt. In places, it has a slushy quality more akin to snow than you would ever expect to experience in a place like this.



Given that this is actually one of the most extreme environments on the planet, Badwater Basin is definitely something to put on your list of things you cannot miss should you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods. 



D A N T E' S  V I E W


The fact that humans took the time to build a road all the way up to where you’ll find Dante’s View is a level of national park convenience that is a true gift to those who don’t quite find hiking to the highest peaks for epic, surreal, life-affirming views in their wheelhouse. This place delivers. Beholding the Badwater Basin Salt Flats from that height and with that infinite scope is a dreamscape that feels much more creatively birthed in a fiery fit of inspiration rather than gradually formed as a result of physical forces, sluggishly evolving over millennia. After a gorgeous drive up the mountain, there were only a few people around when we arrived. As we made our way up the path to various peaks weaving and jutting over the valley far below, we found ourselves alone with an entire 360 degree isolated experience that felt like a vision your being yearns for but never actually expects to find in waking life or outside of a fantasy. I’m convinced multitudes of sacred moments are had here and carried back to the homes of travelers worldwide. It was definitely the case for us. Sometimes, just being somewhere can have a lifetime of effect that can be accessed at any time. This is one of those somewheres. 



A R T I S T  D R I V E


Badwater Rd proves once again to be a pathway to the most surreal landscapes imaginable like paintings come to life, and none so much as Artist’s Pallet. Turning onto Artist Drive is one of the best decisions you can make in Death Valley. Though Artist’s Pallet is the ultimate lookout to get out and immerse yourself in the pure beauty, the entire drive IS the destination. The one-way road floats you through the multi-colored mountains, with shades of rusty reds, turquoise blues, burnt blacks, chocolate browns, creamy purples, and rosy pinks stunning you into an hypnotic meditation on land’s ability to affect you with its energy. You gradually find yourself surrounded by morphing and transforming hues with every curve of the path, making you wish it would never end. You might want to make sure you have a really good playlist providing the soundtrack to your voyage. Listening to music that puts you into a good state of mind is the perfect compliment to the serenity of the environment. We were listening to Barzin's "Stealing Beauty" and it pushed the ride into the absolutely surreal category.



Arriving at the Artist’s Pallet gives you the opportunity to sit with the beautifully muted, dusty colors on full display and available for you to explore should you feel like stepping into the canvas… We fell in love with this part of Death Valley and absolutely had to go back again the next day for another opportunity to encounter this divine space. 



M E S Q U I T E  S A N D  D U N E S


Heading north in the opposite direction of Badwater Rd. from the Ranch delivers you to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. For us, this was our most immersive exploration as we walked up and down and all around the dunes. Feeling almost blasphemous with every footprint left behind, we reluctantly disturbed the perfectly smooth wind-blown patterns in the desert sand. Coming here on a particularly breezy day would not be recommended for the sake of your eyes, but we were blessed with an evening of serenity, allowing us to wander and attempt to document the beautiful contrast of flowing sand-waves set against the rigid architecture of mountains approaching beyond the dunes.



This place is potentially the most sensual Death Valley has to offer with its soft hills of sand embracing you with each step, inviting you to explore the landscape and find private corners to take in a sunset, be still, and listen to the quiet. If you’re looking to have a spiritual experience, you will find it here. It is absolutely the quintessential desert vibe you never knew you always wanted. 



Z A B R I S K I E  P O I N T 


This is a great place to perch and get to see the surrounding mountains up close and personal. We first visited the Point on our drive into the park - it’s right off the side of the road and hard to miss. This spot’s a great introduction to Death Valley and an interesting piece of history to discover. We decided this would be a good place to return to later that night so we could photograph the stars. We made our way back around 2:00am and quickly realized we were not the only ones with that idea. While not the isolated, solo astro experience we are used to and were hoping for, we got the shot - but not without getting in each other’s way a bit. Though it was something that made sense to try, if we were to do it again, we would seriously just pick a place off the side of Badwater Rd. It would have been just as grand and more importantly, free of any other stargazers with the same goal competing in a confined space. Especially if you are hoping to do any light painting! Something to keep in mind if you are a photographer hoping to get the shot - though maybe you’d get lucky and have it all to yourself…



When it comes to choosing where to go explore and have adventures, extreme environments always have a certain allure. To fully understand what humans can experience on this planet, these dramatic landscapes provide perspective about just how actually hospitable earth is for humans by and large. To truly and deeply appreciate all of the luxurious locations we love to flock to, it could be a valuable exercise to engage with the desolate, the uninhabitable, and the potentially dangerous destinations (preferably in a safe way, of course). There is a strange beauty and an inherent peace just by virtue of the fact that there aren’t people competing for parking, loading up at a Walmart, and waiting in line for Starbucks. Especially for people who live in the south-western United States, Death Valley is too close to ignore. It is amazing that a half-day car ride can deliver you to such a vastly unique, alien place that is incredibly easy to navigate, seriously awe inspiring, and will leave an impression that lasts a lifetime. What more could any of us want from a getaway?



Steve Tuthill(non-registered)
With both amazing photographs and commentary, it seems that you have created an amazing travel brochure or Death Valley.
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