Photo Of The Day: Mojave Desert

Today’s Photo of the Day is a sand dune from the Mojave Desert in California. Taken by Luke Destefano, this photo captures the sand as it moves through the air, swept away with the wind. With a picture-perfect blue sky in the background contrasting the vivid orange of the dune, I can only imagine what it would have been like to see this in person. Here’s to hoping Luke had some goggles on at the time. Have you been to the Mojave Desert? Do you have photos from the trip to share with us? If so, upload them, as well as any other travel photos you have, to the Gadling Flickr Pool.

America’s baddest badlands

One of the greatest things about the United States is its environmental diversity. From towering forests of pine to sun-hammered deserts, from snowy peaks to steaming swamps, this nation has it all.

Some of the most compelling places are also the harshest. Take this view of the sand dunes of Death Valley, taken by talented photographer John Bruckman. This is the worst part of the Mojave Desert–lower, hotter, and drier than any other spot in the country, yet it has a subtle beauty this image captures so well. With the majority of us living in cities or suburbs, these open, empty spaces call out to us.

They certainly do to me. When I moved from the leafy upstate New York to southern Arizona for university, I discovered what people really mean when they talk about America’s wide open spaces. They set you free, and they can kill you if you’re not prepared, yet somehow their deadliness only adds to the feeling of freedom.

America’s badlands remind us that life can cling to even the bleakest of landscapes, that the empty places can sometimes be those most worth visiting.


Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise flies first solo run

The world is one step closer to the era of space tourism after an historic flight in the Mojave desert yesterday.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise took its first solo flight, detaching from the mothership Eve and landing on its own power.

Enterprise can carry six passengers and two crew. The mothership Eve carries Enterprise up into the sky before the Enterprise detaches and ignites its rocket, shooting it above the atmosphere and into space, but not high enough to achieve orbit. The rocket was not fired on this test flight and no passengers were on board. The crew consisted of pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury, who flew for 25 minutes before landing.

More than three hundred people have already signed up to take a suborbital ride on the Enterprise once it becomes operational. Rides cost $200,000 each and are scheduled to start in about eighteen months.

The British owner of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson, watched the test. The success of the operation came as good news after Virgin Galactic’s financial difficulties.

Would you fly into space if you had the money? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise makes its first “Captive Carry Flight”

It was just 4 months ago when the Gadling team visited the Mojave Desert space port to witness the unveiling of the VSS Enterprise – the actual Virgin Galactic plane that will be flying paying guests into space on the first commercial space flight service.

Yesterday was another huge milestone for the team – they took the VSS Enterprise for its first “captive carry flight”. This flight involved flying the mothership and the spaceship, without disconnecting. In future flight tests, they’ll fly both craft, and let the spaceship glide back to earth.

Tests will continue well into 2011, prior to the start of actual commercial space operations. The starting price for tickets is $200,000, with a minimum deposit of $20,000.

Furnace 508 endurance cycling race starts tomorrow

Tomorrow morning one of the most challenging cycling events anywhere on the planet will get underway from Santa Clarita, California. Two hundred riders will set out to compete in the Furnace 508, a race that is billed as “the toughest 48 hours in sports”, and is known for pushing its competitors to the limits of their physical and mental endurance.

The 508 mile course runs from Santa Clarita to Twentynine Palms, crossing through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley in the process. The riders will be tested by ten mountain passes, offering up more than 35,000 feet of elevation gain over the length of the course. And when they’re not dealing with the cool mountain temperatures, they’ll be getting baked by the desert heat.

Competitors can ride the race in three categories, solo, and two- or four-person relays. Solo riders obviously ride the entire 508 miles by themselves, while the relay teams break down the course into two and four segments of equal length, with each rider taking a segment. Last year, the first solo rider to cross the finish line was Michael Emde, who completed the course in just 27 hours and 28 minutes.

The organizers of the race are also committed to being eco-friendly, and have advised the athletes on how to be on a “green team“. The list of suggestions for the racers to limit their impact on the environment includes using hybrid team cars, eating fruits and vegetables that are purchased locally, and using five gallon jugs of water to refill their bottles. The hope is to have a challenging and amazing race while leaving no trace of their passing.

For more on the race, check out the official website, where you’ll find info on the course, the official rules, and more, including the always amusing tall tales from previous races.