We recently returned to Death Valley National Park to continue work on a project I started during a previous visit. These are a couple of shots I took along the way at Eureka Dunes, one from out in the middle of the mile-long stretch dunes and another from our campsite at night. In order to get the photos I wanted for the project, we decided to head out in the middle of July when temperatures at Badwater Basin (the park’s center 200 feet below sea level) were registering over 120 degrees.
The hope was to find absolutely no footprints in the dunes, about 50 miles from the basin. Droves of so-called “heat tourists” were known to be visiting the basin to experience the extreme temperatures, but I was fortunately correct in guessing that they would not venture far beyond the nearby hotels and cabins providing them an oasis with A/C and cold cocktails they could sit around sipping while discussing how unbelievably hot it was out there.
Despite that the Eureka Valley is about 3,000 feet above sea level, resulting in much “cooler” temperatures of around 105, it’s probably not a good idea to head out to these parts for very long in the summer. It’s not only hot, but there’s no source of relief for miles. If you’re going to do venture out, your best bet is to rent a Jeep outfitted with off-road tires and bring LOTS of water. We brought the water, but were driving my 11-year-old Nissan Sentra. It’s been a good car, but she was surely out of her element. On my previous trip to the dunes I had rented an appropriate vehicle – a Jeep with off-road tires – and therefore didn’t realize just how bad, and how long, the roads out there were. To reach the dunes you have to travel over a good 10 miles of washboard road, which, in a Sentra at least, restricts your speed to a maximum of 10 mph. She handled it like a champ though and after about 2 hours of incredibly slow, bumpity-bump-bumpy driving we reached the base of the dunes. Ten miles in a desert valley really doesn’t appear that far, which made it all the more torturous as the giant dunes were in our sites from the moment we were on the road, yet never seemed to get any closer. Thank god for podcasts.
The long wait paid off though, and when we got there we had the entire valley to ourselves. Upon arriving, we set out on the dunes to catch the last two hours of light. It was hot as hell, but didn’t seem all that bad as long as we kept drinking water. As night fell, we were treated to one of the more unique camping experiences of our lives, sitting at the base of the largest dunes in North America under a nearly full moon. We ate a meal of farro and mushrooms cooked on a portable camping stove and stared out at the mountains of sand, that were almost as bright as they appear in the photo. Trying to turn up the “epic” factor to 11 we put on some tracks by Sigur Ros and blasted them out of our portable Bluetooth speaker. If there’s an ideal setting, other than a mile under the sea with Capt. Steve Zissou, to listen to Sigur Ros, I think we found it. The next morning we were up at 6 a.m. to trek back out over the dunes in the morning light. We finished by 8 and hopped back in the car to get out of dodge before the heat came back. Definitely amazing. And I’ll definitely remember the Jeep next time.