Mini Venture – El Mirage Dry Lake Bed

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Tuesday, September 28th, 2016

After waiting more than six month for some decent storm clouds, we were finally paid a visit by a storm system that was forming everywhere around Victorville except overhead as usual. Regardless, It always makes me smile to see stormy weather, I get bored of clear skies which don’t do much for photos, especially sunset images. When a good storm system rolls in however, the skies become very interesting and that’s when I keep my eyes on the sky for potential photo opportunities. I had a feeling that today would be a great opportunity for a fantastic sunset at El Mirage Dry Lake Bed. I had three days left to use my annual lake bed pass before it expired, so today I was going to take advantage of one last visit. I had been coming this dry lake bed since I was about 10 years old, and it was always free, but unfortunately BLM (Bureau of Land Management) started charging an entry fee of $15 bucks on October 1st 2009. As much as this annoyed me after years of shooting photo and video projects here free of charge, I realized that at the very least, the fee was going toward the preservation and upkeep of the lake bed.

“The Starship loves a good high speed run across the smooth surface of the dry lake bed.”

During the rainy season, the lake bed is always closed to visitors. The closure of the lake bed is enforced now, but in the past, before BLM set up shop here, people would often ignore the signs and enter only to tear through the lake bed when it was wet or muddy which destroyed the beautiful, cracked and smooth surface that had taken decades to develop. If it means keeping people from destroying the lake bed surface, then I suppose I can live with a fee. I visit the lake bed often enough to justify the purchase a $90 dollar annual pass, but the downside of theis annual pass is that unlike the National Parks Pass which you can buy anytime of year and still have it be valid for 365 days from the date of purchase, the El Mirage annual pass has to be purchased on October 1st of every year so that you get 365 days worth of access. For example, If you bought the El Mirage annual pass on January 1st, then it would only be good for 9 months.

“The San Gabriel mountains create a massive natural wall that separate Los Angeles and the Inland Empire from the Mojave Desert.”

El Mirage Dry Lake Bed

GPS Coordinates: 34.6469735° N, 117.6174444° W

El Mirage Lake is a dry lake bed in the northwestern Victor Valley of the central Mojave Desert, within San Bernardino County, California. The lake is located about 9 miles (14 km) west-northwest of the town of Adelanto and 10 mi (16 km) north of Highway 18 in San Bernardino County. The dry lake, at an elevation of 2,840 ft (870 m), is approximately 6 mi (9.7 km) long. El Mirage Lakebed experiences a desert climate, with cool winters and hot summers. Due to the lakebed’s aridity and altitude, the Diurnal temperature variation is substantial. Though summer days can be very hot, summer nighttime temperatures are cool. The lakebed receives an occasional dusting of snow in the winter months, however, snowfall usually melts within 24 hours.

For 50 years the lakebed has been used by the Southern California Timing Association for timed speed runs. The club also operates the Bonneville Salt Flats speed runs. Formerly open to all visitors, it has been a popular spot for many activities ranging from gyrocopter and ultralight aircraft operations to automobile racing. The Bureau of Land Management has installed a fence to enclose the lake and some of the surrounding areas, and now charges fees for entry to what is now known as the El Mirage Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Area. It is a popular filming location for automobile commercials. Permits for the Recreation Area can be purchased on-site, at local retailers and online. Annual permits are $90, weekly permits are $30, and daily permits are $15. Private aircraft may still land on the lakebed. (Source: Wikipedia)

“Waiting patiently for the sun to burst through the clouds just before vanishing behind the horizon.”

Getting That Money Shot!

This was a perfect day to visit the lake bed one last time before the annual pass expired. I came equipped with my trusty Canon 5D MKII and an array of lenses. For the image I wanted to capture, none of my crazy expensive L lenses were the solution, but rather the least expensive of my L series lenses, my Canon 17-40mm f/4.0L USM. I mounted this lens and zoomed it to a setting of 22mm due to the extreme vignetting that occurs when it is fully open at 17mm. I attached a Circular Polarized filter to boost the color and eliminate any unwanted glare/highlights from the dry lake bed floor.

I also attached my Lee Filter kit to the Circular Polarized filter with a 77mm adapter ring and slid a 0.3 Neutral Density graduated filter to get exposure balance between the sky and ground. I set the entire thing up on a very handy Induro Hi-Hat tripod for a low shot and attached my ‘Canon Angle Finder C’ so that I could set up my composition easier since the camera was so low to the ground. Lastly, I attached my remote release and waited patiently for that sun to come breaking through the clouds.

“My patience paid off and for only a brief moment, the sun burst through the clouds only to set immediately after.”

I was happy with the photos I got today, I knew that somewhere in that bunch that I would find my money shot. I packed up all my gear and stood outside my rig with some classic Eagles playing softly on my stereo. There I was, remembering why I love this place so much, the memories played through my mind with the stereo adding a soundtrack to it all. I smiled and enjoyed the view for a while, but eventually I decided it was time to head out for the night. This lake bed has been a part of my life for 30 years now and it will continue to be for many years to come. “I love the Mojave Desert!….my home.”

-Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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