Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Date Visited: 11.24.12

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of my favorite parts of Death Valley National Park. I loved taking in that smooth dune sea of rising curves and valleys. As I walked barefoot on the cool sand, I spun round and round looking out into the yawning expanse of sand and out towards the mountains, first tan and rose-colored by the setting desert sun and then gradually, bluer and bluer as the sun finally set; I imagined I was a lone explorer.

From the National Park Service description:

Many first time visitors to Death Valley are surprised it is not covered with a sea of sand. Less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes, yet the shadowed ripples and stark, graceful curves define “desert” in our imaginations.

For dunes to exist there must be a source of sand, prevailing winds to move the sand, and a place for the sand to collect. The eroded canyons and washes provide plenty of sand, the wind seems to always blow (especially in the springtime), but there are only a few areas in the park where the sand is “trapped” by geographic features such as mountains.

Although the highest dune [in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes] rises only about 100 feet, the dunes actually cover a vast area. This dune field includes three types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. Polygon-cracked clay of an ancient lakebed forms the floor. Mesquite trees have created large hummocks that provide stable habitats for wildlife.

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