I knew it was going to be a hot day photographing the Trona Pinnacles in the Mojave Desert, Southern California, but I hadn’t anticipated quite how hot. We clocked the temperature at 54.4C (130 F), only a couple of degrees centigrade off the all-time world record temperature (56.7C or 134 F), registered at the Furnace Creek Ranch in nearby Death Valley.
It’s a serious business working in these conditions, humans are not really designed to operate at these temperatures. We needed a few litres of water per person every hour, to drink and to pour over our heads. The car’s air conditioning was an absolute lifesaver, although we later learned that it’s not a good idea to use the air con at such extreme temperatures due to the stresses placed on the engine. A breakdown over 5 miles from any town would have been very serious. Camera equipment can also fail at temperatures well below these extremes. We kept the camera equipment cool with the air con while in the 4×4 and covered them with slightly damp white towels while shooting. My wide-brimmed cowboy hat was essential; without it I wouldn’t have lasted a minute.
The Trona Pinnacles is a landscape like no other. Its other-worldly appearance has been used as a location in many feature films, including Star Trek V and the Planet of the Apes. The highly distinctive tufa pinnacles, some over 40 metres tall, were formed as calcium carbonate (limestone) deposits, deep beneath the Searles Lake, only revealing their unique beauty as the lake dried out. The oldest tufas were formed 100,000 years ago and even the youngest have been around for over 10,000 years.