Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, Cal

Visit Date: October 7, 2015

It was October. It was around 10:00 am in the morning and I had just pulled into the main parking area for Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It was a mild October morning, the temperature was in the mid-80s. A light breeze was blowing. A nice day for a walk in the dunes. So I packed some water, put on my hat and commenced sand walking.

Sand dunes: hotter than they look. And this looks hot.

What I learned:

  1. Walking in sand dunes isn't as fun as it sounds.
  2. There is virtually no shade in the dunes and sand is a great reflector of sun and heat.
  3. The best time to take pictures of the dunes and survive is shortly after sunrise, or as sunset approaches.
  4. Enough water is usually not enough.
  5. The desert really, really wants to kill you.

There were quite a few people exploring the dunes, from young to old, from safely dressed to the guy wearing only shorts and tennis shoes. It was the first time I'd visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and hadn't really known what to expect. The area is very interesting, with hilly dunes and low ravines. When it rains, water flows through the gullies, I guess on it's way to evaporation or Badwater. And when the water dries, the sun bakes the wet sand and turns it into a hard surface along the bottom of the gullies.

There are a lot of these little "islands" in the areas where water flows through the dunes.

After hiking out into the dunes for maybe fifteen minutes, taking pictures, periodically gauging my life expectancy, hearing the ghosts of the Sons of the Pioneers singing "Cool, Clear, Water," looking for animal tracks but finding none, I finally decided I was crazy to be out in the sand dunes this late in the morning. Sure, it was only around 10:30, but the dry air, the sun reflecting off the sand and the lack of shade quickly told me I needed to get back to T-Red and find a different venue to explore. 

I passed the skeletal remains of this lone tree on my way back to the parking area, it looked like I felt. I'll definitely be back to revisit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and maybe some of the other dunes in the park, but I'm going to plan my visit for just after sunrise or late in the afternoon, to catch the shadows which make photos of this area spectacular. It'll be cooler, too, the next time I traipse into the dunes.