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After spending three and a half years in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I have returned to Southern California (for now), to continue my research at Caltech. Being back within driving distance of the southern deserts made it possible to once again revive an old family tradition: celebrating Thanksgiving in Death Valley, and this time my girlfriend, Aubrey, was able to join us.

My parents are originally from the Netherlands, so as the first American of the family, it was my responsibility to introduce to them the concept of the Thanksgiving feast. One day while in elementary school I came home and told my mom that we had to roast a turkey and bake pumpkin pie, because that’s what people do. My mom thought about it for a second and said, “okay, well, cooking a turkey and going to Death Valley are not mutually exclusive.”

Thus began a family tradition of spending Thanksgiving in the desert, feasting on turkeys and pies while enjoying the sunshine and solitude of the quiet desert.

Our turkey, brined, stuffed, and ready to go into the oven.

Our turkey, brined, stuffed, and ready to go into the oven.

Aubrey, ready to slice into our roasted turkey!

Aubrey, ready to slice into our roasted turkey!

This year, Aubrey and I were in charge of the turkey – our first time! We started a few days in advance, brined the bird, and roasted it to golden perfection. Then we packed everything up, and headed for the desert. Our first camp was near my favorite dunes in the park, and we wandered barefoot along the sandy crest at sunset.

We spent the rest of the week camping in canyons and washes, exploring the desert and enjoying good company.

Click images for larger view!

Sunset Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Toes in the Sand : Prints Available

Sunset light on the dunes in California's Death Valley National Park, taken while I wriggled my bare toes in the sand.

Thanksgiving Camp

Camp, with my parents and girlfriend in Death Valley. The strange red cube is my father's design and construction - a portable heated cabin for 4.

Barrel Cactus, Death Valley National Park, California

A Spiny Fella : Prints Available

A small cotton top cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus), nestled among the rocks of a canyon in Death Valley National Park.

Desert Holly, Death Valley National Park, California

Gnarled Holly : Prints Available

The gnarled branches of this Desert Holly tell the story of the difficult life this plant has led eking out a living among the rocks of California's Death Valley National Park.

Warm Sunshine, Death Valley National Park, Wash

Life in the Wash : Prints Available

Warm sunshine illuminates the bushes that dot a rocky wash in California's Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48, with over 5,000 square miles of protected land, 95% of which is wilderness. The park gets approximately 190 visitors per square mile per year. By comparison, nearby Joshua Tree National Park sees 1,100, Yosemite 3,300, and Gates of the Arctic in Alaska has less than 1.

It’s difficult to comprehend this vast expanse of treeless, windswept, yet delicately beautiful land. So, part way through our trip, Aubrey and I set out for an overnight in the mountains overlooking the valley. We shared a bottle of wine under the stars while reading Jack London.

The following morning a light layer of clouds had rolled in and we were treated to one of the most brilliant sunrises I’ve seen in a long time. Underneath the fiery sky the desert valley extended for over sixty miles, and we even had a view of Mt Whitney 70 miles away.

Click image for larger view!

View of Death Valley, Barrel Cactus, California

Glorious Dawn : Prints Available

Sunrise over Death Valley, with a view extending all the way to Badwater (center left near the horizon), the Mesquite Dunes (right), and Telescope Peak (the highest point). This little cotton top cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) could not have landed a more picturesque view point!

There’s nothing that soothes the soul like staring off in the vast expanse of emptiness.

Enjoying the Emptiness

Aubrey, enjoying the wonderful view of nothingness.

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3 Comments to “Turkeys in the Desert – Death Valley Nat. Park”

  1. Reece Parker says:

    Glad to see you’re not mentioning the dunes by name. I’ve only been there twice, but it’s one of my favorite places in the park. Probably my favorite photograph was made there, a sunset for the ages. Your photographs provoke a bittersweet feeling. So beautiful and it really makes me want to be there. But after 13 years of living in the Owens Valley, I’ve had to relocate to NM. Sure am missing being able to run down to DV on a whim.

  2. Chris Kayler says:

    Great read, Floris! My girlfriend and I were also in charge of the feast this year. It turned out great. Much easier than I had feared it would be. Lovely set of images. The first, in particular has a great feeling to it. Love the way you spaced all of the dunes and the warm and cool contrast is definitely nice. That S-curve in the foreground is just beautiful. I also like Gnarled Holly … it some similarities to some of Jack Dykinga’s work that I’ve seen in a few of his books. BTW, if you haven’t ever seen his “Arizona” book you should check it out. “Life in the Wash” is also particularly pleasing to me, and is uniquely your style. Well spaced composition with clever use of somewhat strong(ish) backlight. Nice post, I enjoyed reading!

  3. Bart says:

    Just discovered your blog: great stories and photo’s! Cheers, Bart