25 December 2014

Eureka Dunes

Death Valley National Park

Locate the trailhead.

Sung gave me a last minute chance to return to Death Valley and jumped at it. This did mean giving up another trip to Joshua Tree, but the logistics of finding a hike while others are focused on climbing rocks is not as simple as finding a hike with someone focused on poking around and hiking. The first stopping point is Eureka Dunes. We approached them in the late afternoon along the best road in, a wide strip of washboard dirt road the average passenger car would be capable of traveling. The dunes are at the far end of the valley on this approach, a sudden large pile at the end of a vast flat like some giant has just emptied his shoes after the beach. The mountains behind them make them seem small although they are some of the tallest, rising nearly 700 feet above the dry lake bed. They got more impressive as we got closer.

sand dunes in the distance
A huge pile of sand rises in the distance.

We settled into the camp, a place with a few concrete picnic tables, a pit toilet (with paper), iron fire rings, and an information sign pointing out six more spots with clusters of tables further down the quickly deteriorating road, before really checking out the dunes. One person was already set up in the next one over. Once settled and the evening sun starting to turn the clouds different colors, we started up the close, low dune to check it out.

strings of footprints climbing the sand
The tracks of those who came earlier in the day wound their way up the dune in front of us.

tent and car and pit and sign
The desolate camp at the base of the dunes.

lines of black and tan
The different colors of sand must be different sizes or densities and sort into ripples in the wind.

the sand keeps climbing
There are plenty more dunes to cross to get to the top still.

We turned back after the first peak to get some supper and enjoy the evening as the wind came up. The night was very windy and somewhat cold, but not freezing. The morning is extremely windy and only the most sheltered traces of walkers in the previous day remain on the face of the dunes. This time we climb them aiming at the top.

no more footprints
The traces of previous passage is erased.

circles emerge
The dunes seem to be layered and wet beneath and the wind carves out more than just ripples in this.

sand blowing of peaks and twisting light
The blowing sand seems to generate optical illusions at the peaks.

The sun is up as we climb, but we are in the shadow of the mountains to the southeast. We are uncertain of the best route up or the highest peak, so wander our own paths around the slopes. The formations of the varying sand blasted by the wind and holding in water are fascinating. Disturbances in these patterns show where people have walked long after the footprints have been smoothed out. Eventually, I crest a high peak and Sung makes his way through a somewhat lower pass. The sun makes it to my peak just after I do.

shadows shortening
The sun is approaching as the morning shadows shorten.

sun cresting above the mountains
The sun crests the southeast mountains.

at the top of the ridge with the wind raging
Sung a little way below along the ridge on the pass.

higher peak northerly
Behind me, there is a slightly higher peaks.

We decide to head down the far side to get out of the wind. This side is steeper, but going down is easy. My shoes begin to feel like every bit of space is now filled with sand. They are trail runners and the sand goes right through the well vented fabric.

dry lake bed behind
A look at the vast dry lake bed we traveled through to get here.

footprints in the sand along a ridge line
Footprints in the sand, for a little while anyway.

plants in the near, small dunes in the far
The slopes become very slight and there are numerous plants growing near the bottom.

Getting out of the wind by getting behind the dunes works somewhat and we get to see some things we might have missed as we walk back around the dunes.

foreground ripples in front of the dunes
Ripples in the gently sloped sand around us lead into the high peaks of the dunes.

large shapes in the dried mud
What is left of a muddy plateau.

haze at the top of the dunes
The wind is still blowing making the top of the dunes hazy. Plants grow near the bottom on all sides.

The wind is still raging as we head off to our next destination, and it is just getting started.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 7 January 2015

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