Six months passed since my trip to Tunisia where I visited sand dunes of Sahara. It was time to see some sand again. I recalled a great photo of tall sand dunes somewhere in the Death Valley that I had seen on a photography forum a long long time ago. So I googled the dunes of Death Valley and identified them as Eureka Valley Sand Dunes. Next to Valley of Fire that was recommended to me by my friend Roman, they became one of the destinations of my New Year's road trip.
Gallery of my favorite photos
It was still almost dark when I left. I had a long drive ahead - I figured it would take almost 9 hours to get to the sand dunes. I crossed a very dry winter Sierra and drove down on the east side to Big Pine. A few miles east from there, I turned right from Hwy 168 onto Death Valley Road. The road gradually rises from 3900ft to 7600ft on its way across Inyo Mountains. There was snow on the pass. On the way down, the road passes aptly named Joshua Flats with abundant clusters of Joshua trees. The pavement ends at mile 29 shortly after the road reaches Eureka Valley. It is another 8 miles on a fairly good dirt road to a fork, and another 9 miles on a narrower road from there to the dunes. This last section has significant washboarding and I felt sorry for my Mazda, but I could see my destination the whole way. I set up my tent at a primitive campground near the edge of the dunes.
|Oak tree||Road toward June Lakes||Death Valley Road sign||Warning sign||View back toward the Sierra||Snowy pass|
|Joshua tree||Joshua tree||Narrowing valley||Eureka Valley||Ran out of paved road||Information at the junction|
|Approaching the dunes||Mazda on vacation|
The dunes were an impressive sight from the campsite. They rise 680 feet above the valley, making them almost as tall as Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. The setting is also familiar with mountains rising behind the dunes. The mountains of Last Chance Range reach over 7,000 feet next to the sand dunes and top out at 8,647 ft a little farther away, quite a ways up from the bottom of the valley around the dunes at 2,900 ft..
Stopping often to take photos, it took me some time to get to the top of the highest ridge. Calm weather of an unseasonably dry winter created one issue for my photography - the ridges were covered with tracks. I waited for the sun to set before heading down. It was almost dark when I reached the campsite. The temperature quickly dipped toward freezing and I hung out outside only long enough to see thousands of stars visible from this very dark location.
I left the tent a half an hour before sunrise and walked behind the dunes to reach an area I was hoping would have fewer tracks. I reached the main ridge shortly after the first sun rays hit the dunes. I found I was only partially successful at finding pristine sand as some people have walked the entire length of the main ridge and windless conditions preserved the tracks quite well. I spent a great morning there nevertheless, enjoying the play of light and shadows on the dunes.
I returned to the camp around 11 and sat out the midday hours. I watched people climbing toward the main ridge. They looked like ants compared to the mountain of sand. An otherwise quiet scenery was interrupted several times by a roar of jet engines. It was strange to see Navy strikers, F/A-18 Super Hornets, flying above the desert. From zoomed-in versions of the photos, I later identified them as the Vampires from the VX-9 squadron, an airtest and evaluation squadron based in China Lake, California. They flew in from the north, flying low, and made a sharp high speed turn before Last Chance Range mountains for a nice display of what the aircraft can do.
|Approaching F-18||Fly-by||Super Hornet||Level flight||One of the vampires||Super Hornet circling Eureka Dunes|
|Another visitor - a jeep|
I came out later in the afternoon for another outing in the dunes. It was calm and quiet After the sun set, I drove away thinking that I would be back to this desolate remote place again.