Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve. I spent two nights atop the dunes photographing in moonlight and then camping near the base in order to catch the first light at dawn.
The waxing half moon illuminated the dunes without washing out the stars. The orange glow in many of the shots is from the lights of Barstow to the west. Even in the biggest wildland preserves, civilization is never far away.
click photos to enlarge
A little story behind the photos: On the second night atop the dunes, the moon set sometime after midnight, followed immediately by heavy cloud cover. It got dark fast. I had made an earlier mental note of the skyline of the mountains to the west. By walking toward one particular peak, I would end up back at camp. Easy.
Except when I began my descent of the dunes, I didn’t pay enough attention to exactly where I was on the long dune ridge. My headlamp was nearly dead, so I could only use it to see what was immediately in front of me. After a quick descent to the dune field, I realized that I couldn’t see the ridge. It didn’t concern me at first, since I thought the hulking black skyline I was seeing was the mountains with low cloud cover in the distance. It was actually the backside of the enormous dune I’d just been on.
The next day, comparing daylight views to satellite images, I would be able to see where I went wrong. In the pitch blackness, I hadn’t noticed that I’d gone down a dune face that curved around 90° from my intended route of travel. I kept going for a while before realizing something was definitely very wrong.
I finally resorted to consulting my phone’s map app. It took me a minute to orient myself to the satellite photo showing my position, not believing at first that I could be so very off course. I usually have a bombproof sense of direction and I’ve only been that disoriented in the wild two other times in my life. After a big climb back up the main dune, I sighted the distant ridge line, pointed myself at the appropriate peak and walked across the dunes, reaching camp an hour or so later, at about 2 a.m.
I awoke four hours later, slugged down bottled coffee, grabbed my camera and ran as fast as I could back into the dunes to capture the first rays of sun.
From there, I began the eight-hour drive back to Berkeley.