Jets zip through narrow Star Wars Canyon, drawing visitors
Not a tourist |
Silence and stillness settled over the deep, sunbaked gorge as a pair of photographers sat on a cliff, waiting.
Then the rumbling started. As it grew louder, they scrambled into position.
Within seconds, a thunderous roar reverberated from the steep, narrow canyon as an F-18 fighter jet streaked through it, passing beneath their feet. It came so close they could see the pilots’ expressions.
This deafening show that was over in a flash is a fairly common sight at Death Valley National Park, 415 kilometres east of Los Angeles, where U.S. and foreign militaries train pilots and test jets in the gorge nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.
Photographers — some capturing images for work, others for fun — along with aviation enthusiasts and others have been traipsing to the remote 12,142-square-kilometre park in growing numbers to see the jets soaring below the rim of what’s officially called Rainbow Canyon, near the park’s western entrance.
It earned its nickname because its mineral-rich soil and rocky walls in shades of red, grey and pink draw to mind a landscape in a galaxy far, far away — Tatooine, the home planet of Star Wars character Luke Skywalker.
The unusually close-up view of military planes zooming through the craggy gorge has become so popular the National Park Service is considering making it an attraction, with informational signs about the training that dates back to the Second World War.
On a February day, planes careened through Star Wars Canyon 18 times. One pilot performed barrel rolls over the pass.
Jets zip through the gorge at 200 to 300 m.p.h. (322 to 483 km/h) and can fly as low as 200 feet from the canyon floor. But the canyon’s walls are so steep, the aircraft are still several hundred feet below the rim.
Training at the canyon doesn’t happen every day, so the photographers who make the trek to see them sometimes sit in folding chairs, waiting in the heat, and spy no jets at all.
Jason Watson, who works in information technology at Stanford University’s law school and does freelance photography, recently made his seventh trip to the gorge.
He’s seen as many as 30 photographers spread out across the mile-long rim at different vantage points.
“You can meet anyone from anywhere in the world there,” Watson said.
The photographers develop a camaraderie as they share in the thrill of standing above the speedy jets.
an F-15e strike eagle from seymour Johnson aFB in north carolina flies out of the socalled star Wars canyon turning toward the Panamint range over death valley national Park, calif.