Three years passed since my first trip to Eureka Valley Sand Dunes and it seemed like a good time to celebrate New Year's in the sand dunes again. I have quite a history of it, starting in the White Sands in 1998-99, a year later when the world did not come to an end because of the year 2000 bug, again in 2002-03, and yet again in 2009-10. After cloudless skies during my last visit to Eureka Valley, I timed the trip hoping for colorful sunsets and sunrises, or other photography inspiring weather. I got a lot more clouds than I bargained for, including some rain, but I was also treated to surreal sights of the sand dunes rising from a sea of fog that filled the valley.
Gallery of my favorite photos
Retracing my first trip of three years earlier, I crossed the Sierra on Highway 88. There was a lot more snow this time, and the forecast called for more to come. As I drove south on Highway 395 along the eastern side of Sierra and enjoyed glimpses of sunshine, the peaks of the Sierra were mostly hidden in the clouds and snow showers of a coming storm. The clouds finally closed in on me too when I reached Bishop. I stopped there to refuel both my car and my stomach before continuing to Big Pine, and from there to Eureka Valley on Death Valley Road. It was snowing lightly on top of the pass over Inyo Mountains, and dull gray skies accompanied me to the dunes. I had a lot of company, at least by standards of this desolate place. as I went up the tallest dune. I chatted there with two young engineers from San Diego who claimed to attract rain even in Death Valey - both on their previous trip and the day before. They must have really jinxed the weather since it started raining shortly after I returned to the camp. I toasted to the New Year inside the tent. There was no unexpected explosion of the cork through the tent canopy and the sweet sparkling wine put me to sleep quickly.
|CA 88 near Kirkwood||US 395 and Mono Lake||Approaching Mammoth Lakes||Death Valley Road||Frosty roadscape||Joshua Tree|
|Sand dune life||Out sledding||Eureka Valley view||Ridge couple||Incoming rain||Sandy New Year's celebration|
I got up well before the sunrise to have time to make an arduous trek up the tallest sand dune, more than 700 feet above my camp. My Mazda was covered in ice after the rain from the previous night froze up. It was calm and I could see lots of stars in the sky. As I was getting ready to go, I noticed that a cone of light from my headlamp became visible. When I finally hit the sand, the fog was getting pretty dense. I emerged out of it as I climbed higher. Occasionally, the wind would blow it up the dunes and make everything around me disappear, and moments later it would be gone again....
|Dawn lights||Frozen aliens||First light curves||Foggy ridge||Intersection||Tracks|
|Flowing fog||Flowing fog||Castaway||Waves of elements||Mountains of sand||Sandwiched mountain|
|Mountains of sand||First light on the dunes||Sunrise beauty|
When the sun finally climbed above the peaks of the Last Chance Range, the striking geometry of the sand dunes was revealed. All I could do was stand there and marvel at the beauty in front of me. Frost covered ridges and ripples of sand and the fog below combined into a sight I would remember for a long time. Another hiker climbed the main ridge in the distance, adding a sense of scale of this vast place.
|Dunes!||Self-portrait||Play of shadows||Ripples||Sea of fog|
|Curves||Mountains of sand||Looking back||Main ridge||Dunes summit|
|Dunes summit in BW||Man on top||Man on top||Into the sky|
As the sun climbed higher, I followed the ridge toward the fellow hiker. It seemed the sun would burn off the fog anytime, but an abundant moisture and inversion kept the magic going.
|Ridge trail||Tracks||Frosty scenery||Submerged|
|Peeking out||Dunes summit||Into the fog|
|A man and the space||A man and the elements||Down the ridge||Mountaiins of sand and rock||Frosty tracks|
|Layers||Layers||Windblown||Frosty sand||Ridge with tracks||Smooth geometry|
|Rising out of sea of fog||Black peak||Black peak||BW Fluff||Fluff||Melting|
When the sun rays crested a ridge I was standing on, I noticed that my shadow was projected onto the fog below and surrounded by a glory. This rainbow like phenomenon is caused by diffraction and can often be seen from an airplane that is flying low above the clouds. This was the first time I noticed it with myself being a centerpoint of it.
The fog finally started disappearing around 10:30 as I started my return to the camp. The fog must have swallowed the other campers since my tent and I were alone in the wilderness.
|Tracks||Valley fog||Valley fog||Into the fog||Steaming||Into the black hole|
|Last ridge view||Flora||Three-legged friend||Climb||Mini-tree|
It warmed up nicely once the fog dissipated and no F18s interrupted my lunch siesta. Instead of the highest ridge, I headed for a lower west part of the dunes for the sunset. A few clouds were still clinging to the mountains of Last Chance Range. Low sun light made curves of the dunes stand out until the sun disappeared behind the mountains on the other side of the valley.
|Siesta place||Ramen||Birds racetracks||Curves||Sand|
|Vortex||Coyote tracks||My shadow||Razor ridge||Eureka Dunes in BW||Eureka Dunes|
|Last Chance Range||Floral compasses in BW||Floral compasses||Yin Yang dune|
The was no fog like the previous day, and no real colorful sunrise, but clouds decorated the sky. I went up the main ridge for the third time in three days. It was calm and I had the dunes all to myself. Gradually the wind picked up, and when I returned to camp, the wind gusts where whipping me with clouds of dust and sand.
|Dawn||Cloudy sky||Colors||Eureka Valley||Distant view|
|Zig zags in BW|
|Zig zags||Barren||Branch in BW||Buried||Bushy couple|
The windy conditions seemed to be telling me to go. Packing the tent by myself in the howling wind seemed harder than it should have been. I again bid a good-bye to the dunes and drove back up the Eureka Valley. I made numerous stops along the Death Valley Road on the way up the Inyo Mountains to enjoy the scenery around, including groves of Joshua trees and cholla cacti next to the road.
|Tent in the plain||Last look||Joshue tree||Cholla||Roadside chola||Mazda curves|