The Final Frontier

Trona Pinnacles, CA

Space

They sped through interstellar space at warp speed, faster than the speed of light. Their mission -- find God. Captain James T. Kirk and his crew were held captive by a strange alien who controlled their thoughts and their spaceship, the Enterprise. At the Final Frontier, with the Enterprise in orbit about a strange planet, the alien and his captives took a shuttle craft to the surface. Upon arrival, they were greeted by some of the most unique geological features ever seen. They truly were on a strange planet . . . or were they?


Unique Desert Geology

The scene described above was filmed at the Trona Pinnacles, some of the most interesting geological features of Southern California' s Mojave Desert. The landscape at the Trona Pinnacles consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin. These strange spires are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) and are spread over a 15-square-mile area.

These unique rock formations were created about 10,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in a chain of interconnected lakes throughout the Owens Valley and the Mojave Desert. At its peak, due to glacial runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west, Searles Lake reached a depth of 640 feet and overflowed into Panamint Valley and Death Valley.

The tufa pinnacles formed underwater through the interaction of blue-green algae and local chemical and geothermal conditions. As the regional climate cooled and the glaciers disappeared, the trapped water of Searles Lake became rich in carbonate brine. Calcium-rich underground hot springs welled up through fault line fractures on the lake bottom, forming calcium carbonate deposits. Colonies of blue-green algae then bonded to these deposits and, over several thousand years, formed tufa reefs. When Searles Lake dried up completely, the Trona Pinnacles remained.

Because of the site's significance as one of the most outstanding example of tufa features in North America, the Trona Pinnacles were designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968 by the U.S. Department of Interior. The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in many commercials, films and photographs ever since.

 

More on The Trona Pinnacles

Away Team Mission

Today, my mission was to capture the essence and mystique of the pinnacles on film. Loaded with my two cameras, numerous lenses, a digital video camera and a multitude of other equipment, I cruised across the dry lake bed in my 4x4 Jeep Cherokee to the location of my first photo shoot.

I quickly discovered that the road allowed full access to the area, which meant I didn't have to pack my equipment and hike for a good shooting location.

The first location I chose provided a breathtaking view of a set of pinnacles. To demonstrate the magnificent scenery, I shot two 360-degree circles of the area which would be used to produce QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) interactive tours. Each QTVR is created with 12 consecutive still photographs taken every 30 degrees. To achieve accuracy, I set up a special tripod with a measuring device to indicate the degrees of azimuth between shots.

I use a wide-angle lens on my camera for best results. Another important factor in the production of a QTVR photo shoot is the position of the sun. The best time of day to shoot is when the sun is located directly overhead. This eliminates inconsistencies in the lighting of each of the 12 shots required to make a complete 360-degree QTVR.

The QTVRs are an excellent means of delivering virtual landscapes and locations to an audience.

Photo Tips

Many travelors take cameras with them on their journeys and there are a few tips that can help make your outdoor shots memorable ones.

It's important to always have your camera ready and in a spot that's easy to reach. I often get my best shots when I am least expecting them. When a photo opportunity arises there is not always time to change lenses or search for your camera. Too often I have missed great pictures because my camera was not ready.

The quality of the camera is the other factor which affects the quality of the final photographs. The depth of field, contrast and sharpness are directly affiliated with the type of camera and lense used. How do you get good pictures every time? Skill, a good camera, and some help from the weather.

I was able to get several interesting shots of the Pinnacles. The weather was strange that day. In one direction there were blue skies and puffy clouds, while in the other the overcast sky blocked the sun. As I left the site, the sun peeked through a small hole in the clouds and illuminated a group of tufa spires, which produced one of the best shots from the trip.

Note for Photographers: A friend once told me that the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is that an amateur will show all of his pictures, but a professional will only shows the good shots.

Notes on Getting There

The Trona Pinnacles are located 20 miles east of Ridgecrest, California. They are accessible via a dirt road that intersects with California Route 178, 7 1/2 miles south of the town of Trona. This 3-mile dirt road is accessible to 2-wheel drive vehicles year round, except after rains, when it may be closed to all vehicles. At an elevation of 2,000 feet, summertime temperatures can reach 120 degrees F.; spring and fall are the best times to visit.

By Jim Bremner

The Trona Pinnacles are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Hiking and primitive camping are available. For further information, contact:

Ridgecrest Resource Area Office
300 South Richmond Road
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
760-375-7125


The Trona Pinnacles
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mojave

 

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