Death Valley National Park never leaves you without an adventure especially if it includes a visit to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Visit Death Valley National Park: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Adventure
Do you know why they call this place Death Valley National Park? What will we find here? Why are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes so popular? Questions like these bombarded our minds on a Saturday morning when we were crossing hundreds of miles of deserted California land. It looked like it was going to be a very hot day. To make things worse, we were on our way to visit Death Valley National Park, and, as it turned out, to have once-in-a-lifetime adventure at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Heading east in the direction toward the state of Nevada, California landscape outside of major cities such as Los Angeles (where we started our journey from), Palmdale, and Lancaster, remains pretty much unchanged. All you can see is a vast territory of barren land mixed with rocky hills and steep mountains, disturbed only by never-ending concrete roads and occasional cars, racing at high speed. And still, despite the lack of the diversity of the terrain, we were heading east to visit Death Valley National Park. With just one intention: to see the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and possibly have a memorable summer adventure there.
Facts to Know before your Visit to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are not the only sand accumulations in Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in the United States. Apart from these white sand dunes, four other dunes (Eureka Dunes are the tallest of them) find their home in the park. Together they compose only one percent of the desert.
Isn’t this number way too low for a typical desert that we are used to picture in our minds? Absolutely! However, the fifth largest national park in the country (after 4 national parks located in Alaska) has little to do with a stereotypical desert covered with endless mountains of golden sand. Similar to the majority of other deserts, the strong wind of Death Valley continuously moves huge masses of the sands provided by the eroded canyons. But only a few areas in the park are capable to capture the swirling sand and end their nomadic life between the desert mountains, creating the dunes.
Extremes in Death Valley
Besides the sand dunes, Death Valley National Park encompasses below-sea-level salt flats, dry lake bed, sandstone canyons, and sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa. Such diversity of the terrain is also responsible for elevation extremes. So, for example, Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in Death Valley goes as low as 282 feet below sea level. Telescope Peak, on the other hand, reaches the height of 11,049 feet. Moreover, the extremes go beyond the elevation and apply to temperature. Usually dangerously cold winter months follow summer with its scorching sun. It is well-known that the extreme summer heat killed people in the past.
Visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley
Such a huge and unique place as Death Valley asks for at least a couple of days to feel and explore it. But at that time we only focused on visiting the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Four hours of driving through the unchanging landscape seemed to never come to the end. Guessing what we could find in Death Valley, particularly at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, kept us entertained and helped the time go faster. From time to time, we glanced at car thermometer, which was showing slightly higher number with every dozen miles we were leaving behind.
Meet the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Finally, a few hours later and at the temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit, we spotted the sight of the white sand. Piling up in 100 feet hills, the famous dunes instantly tempted us to burry our feet in its warm sandy waves. But the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes had a big surprise for us. Pleasing to the eye, they were challenging, even dangerous to visit in summer. From the distance, though, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes looked like a desert dream and promised a sandy adventure.
We paid $30 entrance fees at self-help station near the entrance and parked on the opposite side of the parking lot. Only a narrow strip of land separated us from our Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes adventure. One thing we learned shortly after crossing the parking lot and approaching the dunes was that you should never visit Death Valley in summer. Or at least plan your trip before sunrise or after sunset.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Adventure
The realization of how hot the place was came as soon as we stepped on the white sand. However, those first few steps only ignited our curiosity and thirst for adventure at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The whole picture and full comprehension of the extent of the heat came later.
Walking farther away from the safe haven of the parking lot, I felt the sand slowly filling my ballet flats. Was it my overacted mind, inflamed with the excitement, or was the sand really so hot? I felt like those few sand grains inside my shoes burned my skin like a fire. At least, that feeling did not last long. I felt the heat only until the body temperature cooled the sand down. From that point all I could feel was just slight irritation. The burning sensation was tenfold acute for my husband. Despite common sense, he chose to wear slippers that left his feet completely exposed to the sand. Yes, I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for both of us, but still manageable.
Forgetting about the initial inconveniences, at that point I already had my sight set on pristine dune in the far end. Adjusted to the tricks performed by the “innocent” sand on our feet, I tried to convince my husband to go there. By that time, he, however, got a clear understanding of the seriousness of our situation and predicted the impossibility of my mission. After a few not so convincing warnings from him, we settled for the closest to us dune…
Oh man… That was a disaster! The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Adventure you never Forget
With the scorching sun above our heads and the burning sand under our feet, we started walking down the dune. A few steps toward the bottom were enough for the pitiless sand of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to swallow our feet, toasting them from all possible angles. We literally felt like we were on fire.
Complying with kicked-in survival instinct, I was vigorously shaking one leg after another in attempt to get rid of the sand trapped inside my flats. One strenuous movement – and one of my shoes slipped off and flew a few inches away. Ouch… Not the best time for it at all. Instantly pulling up the barefoot leg as high as I could, I froze. But how long could you stand on one leg especially when it was burning? Enduring the pain and exhausting heat, I started running with my bare foot directly touching the agonizing sand. A few seconds later, I managed to rescue my shoe and my foot.
The moment I was putting on my shoe, I starting seeing everything in quite interesting light. My clear vision was intermixed with numerous black circles, uncontrollably flashing in and flashing out. You don’t have to be a doctor to realize that the next step would be fainting. (I believe the shock my body experienced when I walked barefoot on the sand significantly contributed to that physical enervation.)
Oh, I got it! This is why they called this place Death Valley! The answer to the question we’d asked ourselves in the car a few hours earlier came in the least expected form. The name was not just an impressive metaphor. It was real! The danger and the deadly heat of Death Valley and its famous Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were also real!
Desperately wanting to avoid any other incidents, we forgot about that beautiful dune and immediately headed back to the car. As I was rushing back to the safe, sturdy ground of Death Valley outside its sandy dunes, I could not stop telling myself: “It’s right there. It’s so close. Don’t faint.” Meanwhile, my husband put all his agitation and unacceptability of those conditions in two short words: “Murder me!” (Even now, writing all this, makes me laugh out loud. It was scary and hilarious at the same time!)
Rescue… Finally! No more Visits to Death Valley in Summer
No more than three minutes later (that, frankly, it seemed like an eternity), in the comfort of our car, we turned on AC to the maximum level and gratefully embraced the cold air. And then, all of a sudden, we started laughing. With exhilaration, without any restraints… With salty drops of sweat dripping down our faces, we looked back at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and relived our short adventure once again. How couldn’t you admire them? So pristine and majestic! Despite our misfortunate endeavor to conquer the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, we still loved them (probably even more than before). We admired Death Valley and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at that point and were grateful for that short, yet unforgettable adventure.
Capture the Moment
Few more minutes passed before we attempted to pay one more short visit to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. A couple of family pictures to memorize the experience seemed like a must at that point. Despite the heat, Death Valley didn’t suffer from lack of the visitors. And thus, finding a person to take our picture was even easier than at the Palace of Versailles in France surrounded by thousands of people.
My husband approached a South Asian man who at full speed was rushing to his car. (Exactly like we did a few minutes ago.) The stranger did a great job of capturing our perfect moment at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Before he returned our phone, he sincerely apologized and hoped that the pictures came out good. He tried his best, but because of the heat he couldn’t focus. With such explanation and a big smile to compensate for his quick departure, our “photographer” hurried to the safety of this car, away from his own Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes adventure. Completely understandable! I had seen people rapidly hiding inside buildings or cars to escape the cold. Seeing people running away from the mighty warmth (read the heat) of the sun of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley was something unbelievable.
To Blame or not to Blame…
Who or what was to blame for this Death Valley and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes misadventure? We accepted the full responsibility for it. We and only we failed to do a quick research and anticipate the conditions of Death Valley at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Were we upset or disappointed with this Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes adventure? Not at all!
Yes, the things did not go the way we had planned, but the experience was worth it. The chances are, we will not have similar trips in the future (at least, we will try not to). But one thing is certain, we will never forget this Death Valley – the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes adventure.