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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Death Valley, California
September 23, 2012

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, about a mile east of Stovepipe Wells Village where Dinah and I were staying, are well worth the visit, especially late in the day when the shadows create sharp contrasts and magical scenery. What wasn't magical was the heat. Even though we set off late in the day, it was a blistering 44°C (111°F). That was plenty hot enough for us, but strong winds only intensified the heat, driving it like a giant hairdryer.

Undaunted by the high temperature, we were determined to reach the highest dune, about a mile from the parking lot. So we started plodding up and down the dunes. This late in the day, there were few tourists on the dunes, and none ventured very far. We soon passed the farthest hiker and had the sandhills to ourselves. Under the setting sun, the desert scenery was breathtaking.

The wind wasn't a problem at first, but as we climbed higher and closer to the highest dunes, it appeared to pick up. In fact, the forecast called for wind gusts of up to 35 mph. The wind drove sand into our eyes, nostrils, mouths and ears. Being sandblasted was uncomfortable, but we were more concerned about sand getting into our cameras. On the final stretch to the highest dunes, we kept them in their cases. We reached the top, about 40 m above sea level. We had started 12 m below sea level.

Without pausing on the “summit” – it was too windy for that – we dropped down and took a lower route back to the parking lot. Either the wind died down or we got beneath the worst of it, but it was calmer as we made our way back to our car. Near the end of our hour-long trip, Dinah's energy faltered and she felt sick. She probably suffered from heat exhaustion. But she recovered by the next morning and forgot about it. But what we both will always remember, is the sun setting on the dunes.

Going by the footprints, few people venture beyond 200 m from their cars

We headed to the highest dunes (centre)

Looking back at the parking lot

We'll encounter a few ups and downs before reaching our destination

We passed the last bit of vegetation

Climbing sand dunes was taxing, but it was fun coming down them!

Heading to our next dune

The "summit" still appears far off

Thankfully this dune curves around to meet the highest dunes so we didn't have to drop down

Looking back

I hold onto my hat as the wind picks up (mouse over to zoom back)

The wind drives sand over the crest

Heading to the two highest points

Heading down, out of the wind

The setting sun turns the Grapevine Mountains pink

Looking back as we near the parking lot

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