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Dying of the Light

Dying of the Light
The last rays of sunset graze the peaks near Aguereberry Point in the mountains above Death Valley, California.

High in the Mountains above Death Valley

I imagine that what most people associate with the name “Death Valley National Park” is the basin in the valley between the Panamint Mountains and the Amargosa Mountains, where one of the lowest land-based elevations in the world is located, 282 feet below sea level.

But Death Valley National Park is so much more than just that low point (which is located in the Badwater Basin area of Death Valley). The boundary of the park actually encompasses many valleys and mountain ranges, resulting in a vast wealth of scenery.

My image “Dying of the Light” is taken from a peak in the Panamint Mountains known as Aguereberry Point, which overlooks Death Valley itself from the west with Badwater Basin just visible to the southeast.

Badwater Basin is just visible from Aguereberry Point

Aguereberry Point is named after John Aguereberry, a prospector with a claim in the Panamint mountains. He built a road to the top of the mountain by himself which is still the only access to the point which now bears his name. The road to the to of the mountain is adventurous, shall we say, and I do not recommend that any attempt the drive without a lot of experience with 4×4, high clearance, driving. I did not drive by myself up the mountain, I was with a small group led by someone with a great deal of experience.

Being near the top of the Panamint Mountains at over 6,000 feet altitude, the views from Aguereberry Point offer a range of scenery from Death Valley itself to the southeast to various peaks and valleys  within the Panamint mountain range.

The location of Aguereberry Point on Google Maps

Because of the various peaks and ridges present in the area, one of my favorite lighting conditions can be captured from the area when cloud conditions permit: the last rays of sunlight lighting up just the peak of some hill or mountain.

Last Light from Aguereberry Point

There are many such peaks visible all around you as you stand amongst the mountains and the shape of the highest peaks will impact which of the lower peaks get illuminated. Different times of the year will see different angles at which the sun sets behind the mountains, and this will also have an effect on how the light interacts with the landscape.

As the afternoon progressed, I noticed how the shadows being cast by the taller mountains to the west were causing various areas to fall into shadow while others were still in direct sunlight. As the sun crept lower and lower, the light on the hills began to shrink upward, leaving peaks illuminated against backgrounds in shadow. I had just enough time to shoot two images of small peaks on opposite sides of Aguereberry Point. One, “Last Light from Aguereberry Point” was on the northeast side of the point, and “Dying of the Light” which was to the southwest side.

In attempting to analyze what it is that so fascinates me with this sort of light, I have come to the conclusion that it is the perception of the promise of the future that such a scene holds. The light may be dying as night approaches, but a new day awaits on the other side.

Stephen Girimont

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