Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

May 26, 2020

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Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

The fiery origins of Death Valley National Park are evident at the base of the Black Mountains, where the lower slopes present a patchwork of colors — notably at a spot called Artist’s Palette, shown in the first photograph here, taken on February 26, 2020. A palette, of course, is a board or surface upon which an artist places dollops of paint pigments, which are then often mixed to create additional blends and tints, a spectrum also known as a palette — the artist’s selected range of colors for a particular work.

Key early Death Valley artists were volcanic eruptions, which occurred over 5 million years ago along the shared border of what are today’s U.S. states of California and Nevada. The volcanoes deposited ash, metals and minerals, including iron, titanium, aluminum and mica, among others, according to the National Park Service. These materials have been conglomerated, weathered and chemically altered by heat, water, oxidation and other factors. They’re exposed in an earthy rainbow: hematite pinks, reds and yellows; chlorite greens; manganese purples.

Artist’s Palette — recommended to visitors as a must-see in Park Service publications — is accessed via a sinuous 9 mile (14.5 km), one-way paved scenic loop, helpfully called Artist’s Drive, off the park’s Badwater Road and shown in a second photo taken on the same day. The one-lane ribbon has been engineered over a series of alluvial fans and gullies and refurbished in the wake of damaging 2015 flash floods. The route twists and weaves, and suddenly dips and rises again, making a tour along it seem very much like a roller-coaster ride. Short hikes are possible from various stops along the way, as well as from the Artist’s Palette trailhead.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; ISO equivalent: 250; Focal Length (35mm): 105; Bottom - same except: ISO equivalent: 220; Focal Length (35mm): 45.