Read below for the rather lengthy back story behind the image. These are the Imperial Dunes at the SE edge of CA and this particular cloud nearly killed me... literally.
During the past week I was on a trip through AZ and NM, avoiding National Parks and iconic sites in favor of lesser known state parks and no-name locations at all cost. After seeing a forecast for the AZ monsoons clipping the eastern edge of CA I changed plans and headed to the Imperial Dunes with the hope of catching some blowing sand. I arrived around 4pm, the temperature in Imperial City was around 105F, over the dunes must have been well over 115F and not a living soul in sight. Knowing full well how dangerous it is, I packed 3L of water, donned a legionnaire style cap, lathered on the sunscreen, and decided to do some scouting. The intent was to never stray more than a few hundred yards from the car and to avoid any serious exertion. All carefully laid plans went to hell when 20 mins or so into my scouting I turned around and saw the cloud above. It was huge (the image is at 14mm), almost near enough to reach out and touch it, dumping rain on the sand dunes and moving pretty fast. I had no composition from my vantage point so I snapped a few documentary shots and then started running like crazy in an attempt to position myself for a better comp.
Those of you that have been at the Imperial Dunes know that they are bowl-shaped. At the time of the ill-fated decision to chase the cloud I was on one edge of the bowl and cloud was on the other. In all my wisdom I sprinted down the bowl and then started scrambling up the opposite edge, occasionally taking a shot or two when the composition looked half decent. You can probably guess what happened next. I never really got a great comp, but my legs gave out halfway up the slope. I started panting uncontrollably, shivering and seeing black circles, feeling like I am going to collapse any second.
At that point I knew I had gone too far (duh), but my options were extremely limited. There was no hope of making it over the top of the bowl where I may have been able to find some shade. Walking around the middle of the rim trying to get back to the car was a loosing proposition. At this point I was dumping as much water as I was feeling comfortable sparing over my head and neck only to see it evaporate 2 minutes later.
I had to stop and decide what to do. At that moment I remembered the small shrubs at the bottom of the dunes. 15 minutes earlier I had been desperately trying to avoid getting them into my shot, you can see them along the right edge of the frame. Now they looked like my only chance of getting out of this safely. I stumbled back to the bottom and crawled under the shadow of one of the bushes. 30 minutes later my heartbeat was back to normal and I was in a good enough mood to set up a tripod and take a snap of myself in a comical pose.
Another 15 minutes later it was cool enough for me to start moving around... and that his when the light turned. There were all sorts of interesting clouds over the dunes, the sun was low enough for the patterns in the sand to start showing up, and then around 8pm the skies lit up. I must have in excess of 300 shots after my little mishap that I will be processing over the coming weeks, I fully expect to post some of them.
The one above is likely the worst of the lot from a photographic perspective, but it is special to me
I have done quite a bit of processing to tone down the mid-day sun and give the eye something to latch onto. I was tempted to take the cloud and clone it onto a more appealing foreground, but ultimately decided against it. It is the story that is special to me so the image stayed as is.