Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Enlarge the photo to see who was there. Lots of animal traces on the dunes. Come early in the morning to find uninterrupted footprints of birds and animals I cannot name. Even if I don't see them it's good to know they are alive well in Death Valley.
This is the first time I tried to photograph sand dunes. They are indeed interesting subjects. Sand is basic element like water or cloud. Yet, together (dunes) there are unlimited possibilities of colors, forms, and patterns, lights, and shadows.
There are 5 widely separated dune fields in the Park. The inclusion of Eureka Dunes (northwest portion of the Park) in 1994 made Death Valley the largest National Park in continental USA. But the dunes near Stovepipe Wells are the most visited. All my dune photos were taken here. Popular activities at the dunes are hiking, wildlife watching, and sand surfing (see my sports travel tips).
When viewed from a distance, the sand dunes are just a small, dusty corner of Death Valley. The attached photo was taken near Hell's Gate along Route 374. It shows the Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells at the foot of Tucki Mountains (the backdrop in the photo). Here the winds are slowed down by the mountains and deposit the sands they carry.
Sunset is the best time to photograph the sand dunes. The dunes' rich colors are emphasized by the setting sun, and their graceful shape is outlined by the long shadows. The attached photo shows that a clean shot in the sand dunes is hard to get. Enlarge the photo and you'll see footprints all over the place. Also the surrounding mountains can be noisy when I try to keep the composition simple. Sometimes the plants get in the way too. At last I found a perfectly clean angle but my camera ran out of battery.
The sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells are easily accessible. It covers only about 14 square miles. It's often filled with tourists, making it hard to get a clean picture. Live objects (people or animals) in a landscape photo can break the harmony and steal the attention of viewers. But I found placing people (1 or 2) on top of a distant dune an effective way to show solitude in the desert, as seen in photo.
Landscape photography typically excludes any man-made objects in the picture. To do that in sand dunes you need to come early in the morning as this area is constantly filled with tourists. However, footprints on the dunes can provide interesting patterns too.
I was photograhping some footprints on the sand dunes when I saw this beetle. It was resting in the shadow inside a footprint. It sensed my presence, and started digging a hole to hide. Or maybe it was just trying to show me its shiny behind.
There are 14 square miles of wind sculpted sand dunes composed of quartz granules. The dunes appear out of nowhere in the middle of the basin and within view of Route 190. There are no established trails. Visitors park their vehicles on the shoulder of the road and proceed to the dunes for a closer glimpse.
Yes, there are sand dunes in Death Valley, a very desert-like situation. There are some cool sand dunes along the way between Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells Village. Since I've seen sand dunes at beaches and other places, I was more attracted toward the other features of the park like canyons.
Oh, I loved this.... the sanddunes. To me that felt a bit like a real desert. Walking downhill like that, I didn't notice how all the sand creeped in my shoes at first... but all of a sudden... auch.... the sand is so hot! Hahaha, it was fun though :-)
Eureka Dunes are accessable by most standard vehicles via the Death Valley/Big Pine Road. From the Ubehebe Crater Road you must travel 44 miles of graded dirt to the dunes. From the town of Big Pine there are 28 miles of paved road and 2l miles of graded dirt to the dunes. The final 10 miles of both routes is the narrow South Eureka Road. During inclement weather, all access to Eureka Dunes can be closed or limited. No water or services are available along this route.
Just off of Route 190, near Stovepipe Wells, are sand dunes that are easily accessible by car. They are by far the most easily accessible of the sand dune formations in the park.
I've manipulated some images to recreate the atmosphere of the dunes. I'm not quite done, but this one is close.
*for full photo please open it*