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It turns out that January 23, 2012 was a good day to be at Ibex Dunes.
My plans were to photograph that sunset at Badwater, it had been raining off and on all day and I was hoping that there might be some water accumulation on the saltpan. As I drove by, I didn't see any pockets of water glistening from a distance, but I did see a bunch of people and photographers. I had already photographed Badwater on this particular trip, with decent conditions, and didn't want to have to compete with other tripods. So I made an impulse decision to try my luck at Ibex Dunes.
This was a gamble - I had never been to Ibex before and I had no idea what the road conditions were like, nor, perhaps more importantly, what the dunes themselves were like, and I wasn't going to have any time to scout. The weather was overcast with intermittent rain and it didn't look like the sun was going to pop out to light the dunes or clouds. I planned on camping overnight, so even if the conditions were not great at sunset I could do a little scouting prior to sunrise.
The dirt roads were surprisingly in great condition and I made better time than I anticipated. As I was driving near the dunes I noticed another car about a half-mile ahead. Assuming (rightly, it turns out) that it was a photographer, I pulled over and parked to approach the dunes from the south, rather than the middle, so that it would be less likely that we would get in each other's way.
The dunes are about a mile from the road, but only the last bit of that is sand. To avoid getting lost in the dark on the way back out, I marked my car on the GPS and headed out.
As I was about a quarter mile from the dunes, finally reaching the sand, when the sun came out and lit up the dunes.
I quickly climbed a small dune and scrambled to find a composition while the sun was still out and lighting up a bit dune, and came up with this:
I continued walking, quickly as I did not know how much longer the sun would be out, and found another composition a few minutes later. I saw the other photographer in the distance for the first time, and he was headed back to his car - right when it was starting to get good! I would have the entire dunes to myself, a feat that is pretty much impossible at the more popular Mesquite Flat Dunes. A minute later a rainbow appeared, luckily for me in the middle of my pre-selected composition:
I have an unhealthy obsession with rainbows. This rainbow, like most of them, disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. I knew that there was a decent chance of a reappearance if the sun came out again so I went to find a better composition that would feature the rainbow (should it reappear) more prominently. I found a decent spot that would work with or without a rainbow, but needed the sun to come out to light up the dune. As I was waiting, two things happened: it started to rain, hard, and the wind picked up significantly. In fact my camera body and tripod blew over, but luckily for me, it only landed squarely on my head and not the sand (bruises don't cost as much to repair). Finally, after about a half-hour the sun came out and the rainbow re-appeared. I didn't expect the rainbow to actually be in front of the dune, and was thrilled. If you look carefully you can see how the right side of the dune is wet:
I thought it was highly unlikely that I would have better conditions with the above composition, so I decided to try and find another one while the rainbow was out, thinking I only had a few minutes. I was scrambling and running across the dunes, looking like an idiot I'm sure (Yakety Sax would have been an appropriate theme, but as I was by myself, there was no need to feel self-conscious!).
All of the nearby dunes were facing the "wrong" direction for me to get a good composition with the rainbow, so I decided to try something different and photograph the now double-rainbow parallel to a dune (slightly below it) rather than perpendicular to it. Of all of the photos from this night, this probably ended up being my favorite:
After that photograph, I decided to try my luck one more time and get the shot I had envisioned, with a dune perpendicular to the rainbow. By this point I was exhausted and completely wet, having to continually wipe off my camera and lens. I finally arrived at a dune right when the clouds started to light up a little bit and caught the tail end of the rainbow (the wet dunes are even more obvious in this photo):
A few minutes later, the sun was below the horizon, the color in the clouds disappeared, and I was done, physically drained from running around the dunes chasing the fleeting rainbow that happened to stick around a lot longer than I thought it would.
That hour chasing light in Ibex was probably the most photographically productive hour I had in 2012. Everything lined up perfectly, from having interesting and long lasting light, to fantastic subject matter, and being fortunate to find a few compositions while it was all happening. It is an evening that I will never forget, and one that I am unlikely to repeat, but I'll keep trying!