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About Death Valley Sand Dunes

Out in the middle of Death Valley, a field of light-colored sand dunes cover an area of fourteen square miles, called the Death Valley Sand Dunes, or also the Mesquite Dunes. In the immensity of the valley, they appear very small and lonely. Most of the dunes lie in parallel ridges, known as transverse dunes. Crossing them involves a climb onto each dune, and a descent into the next trough beyond it. At the apex of the dune field a few star dunes rise to a height of more than 100 feet. A scattering of creosote bushes survive amongst the dunes.

Miles of pale-green creosote bushes surround the dunes in most directions, widely spaced in the gravely soil. The dark stone slopes of Tucki Mountain rise nearby to the south, and mountains rim the valley at a distance in all other directions. To the east lies the Devil's Cornfield, a salt flat broken by clumps of plants unfortunate enough to have survived there. Beyond this, the slopes of the Amargosa Mountains rise in striking pink and red ridges of rock.

Death Valley National Park has surprisingly few sand dunes for the large area it covers. Several other sand dune fields lie within the park, including the Eureka Dunes, Panamint Dunes, Saline Valley Dunes, and the Ibex Dunes. Of them, the Death Valley Sand Dunes are the most popular.

Wind created the sand dunes, collecting fragments of rock, weathered out of the surrounding mountains, carrying it over the valley and dropping it. The dunes shift and change their shape over time as the wind continues to shift the sand around. Footprints left by visitors last only hours or days at the most. Even a bit of a breeze can smooth them out again. Although the dunes keep shifting within the dune field, the field itself stays in place, held there by wind patterns shaped by the mountains.

California Highway 190 passes the dunes to the south, and a short trail brings visitors up into the dunes to wander as they please.

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Sand Dunes Trail

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