49. Spring Storm, Dante's View, Death Valley, California 5.1.2024.jpg

Spring Storm, Dante's View, Death Valley, California

Dante's View is a mountain terrace a mile above Death Valley near California's eastern border with Nevada. Below lies Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America and the site of the world's hottest recorded temperature (130 degrees Fahrenheit). On a cloudless day, one can see the 11,000-foot Panamint Range across the basin and, on exceptionally clear days, glimpse the peak of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states.

This viewpoint is named for Dante Alighieri, who, in the 14th century, wrote “The Divine Comedy,” describing his poetic vision of the nine circles of torment within the earth, the nine spheres of Paradise above, and, in between, the seven terraces of Purgatory. We can envisage these realms from this high bench through the lens of his poem's allegorical cosmology. Dante's View can be thought of as residing near the summit of the steep mountain of Purgatory, in sight of heaven, symbolized by the sky and its sunrays, and of the underworld, signified by the fiery basin below.

Ten thousand years ago, this dun-colored playa was filled with water. Today, its arid landscape displays remarkable interlocking patterns formed by salt deposits. This photograph was taken in spring when a wet weather system moved inland from the Pacific Ocean and crossed California's mountains. Clouds rose over the Panamint Mountains as rain and snow dampened its crest. The atmosphere had been wrung dry by the time the storm reached Badwater Basin.

- James Baker