Harmony Borax Works, a former borax refinery, is located about a mile away from the Furnace Creek visitor center. The Death Valley National Park website suggested it as one of three places to photograph stars – the other two being Badwater Basin and Mesquite Flats Sand dunes. Since I took the trip for that purpose, we visited shortly after arriving. Our first visit was during the day to pick out spots to shoot. When we returned at night we wouldn’t be able to see. So, the day visit was extremely important to the resulting photograph.
Remnants of the past
Upon arrival, my attention was drawn to some old wagons. The sign read that they were used to transport borax to Mojave, pulled by mules. I knew I was going to include the wagons in my shot later. In addition to the wagon, there were the remnants of the refinery (a boiler and what was left of the walls). Besides that, there wasn’t much to see. So, we didn’t stay long. Instead, we left to see more of the park.
Into the Darkness
We returned to Harmony Borax Works that night around 10:30pm. We expected it to be dark. But! On my… it was dark-dark! In fact, it was so dark – we weren’t sure we were going to the right place. It looked like an entirely different place, even though we were there just hours before. After all, we live in the suburbs of Maryland. So, complete darkness is not something that we’re used to. And, I have to admit – it was quite scary. I got over my fear (not immediately), put on my headlamp, and made my way to the wagons.
My fear subsided when I looked up into the sky, and it was filled with stars. It was absolutely amazing! Ever since I planned the trip, I wondered what a completely starry sky would look like. Surreal is the only word I can use to describe it. My imagination could not prepare me for what I was witnessing. I was in complete awe of the wonder of the universe.
To prepare for the trip, I researched astrophotography, by taking some online courses and watching YouTube videos. But, I didn’t have any real experience shooting stars. This was my first time shooting in those conditions. We were in a strange place where it was pitch black – and windy! It took me a while to gain my composure. Then I had to put the knowledge into practice. In the end, I was happy with the result.