When (Not) to Visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park never leaves you without an adventure of your life, especially if it includes a visit to the Mesquite White Flat Sand Dunes.

Last updated: April 29, 2024

National Parks near Los Angeles - Roads and Destinations
When not to visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley

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 driving through hundreds of miles of deserted California land.

Along with the tons of unanswered quests, a sad realization dawned on us. It was going to be a very hot summer day. Ironically, we were on our way to visit some white sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, the hottest and driest place in North America.

While you head east toward Nevada, California landscape remains pretty much unchanged. Vast, barren land mixed with rocky hills and steep mountains, divided by never-ending roads and disturbed by occasional cars, racing at high speed.

One thing, however, we were realistic about. Since we were planning only on a day trip from Los Angeles, we wouldn’t possibly see a lot in the national park. Our list of interest was narrowed down to just one place, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

What You Should Know before Visiting Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of the four dunes systems (Eureka Dunes are the highest of them) found in Death Valley. Together the sandy hills compose only one percent of the desert.

Isn’t this number way too low for a typical desert that we are used to seeing on the Internet? Absolutely! However, the fifth largest national park in the U.S. (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 around the world, strong winds of Death Valley continuously move huge masses of sands provided by eroded canyons. But only a few places in the park, surrounded by towering mountains, are capable of capturing the swirling sand and ending its nomadic life.

With that said, the Mesquite Sand Dunes wouldn’t exist if not for the desert gusts that are at their naughtiest in winter and early spring and several mountain ranges: the Tucki Mountains in the south and the Grapevine and Funeral Mountains in the east. The majority of the sand that builds the Mesquite Dunes comes from the Cottonwood Mountains nestled in the north and northwest.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley - Roads and Destinations
The Mesquite Dunes are created as a result of sand being trapped between the surrounding mountains

Extremes in Death Valley

Apart from the sand dunes, Death Valley National Park encompasses below-sea-level salt flats, dry lake beds, sandstone canyons, and sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa. The greatest extremes in elevation are presented by Badwater Basin and Telescope Peak.

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest and most of the time driest place (until Lake Manly reappears) not only in Death Valley, but in North America. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Telescope Peak reaches the height of 11,049 feet.

When (Not) to Visit Mesquite Sand Dunes

The extremes in Death Valley go beyond the mere elevation and are also applied to temperatures. Normally cold at night in winter, the desert embraces you with blazing heat in summer.

The sun hits the open areas, such as the Mesquite Sand Dunes, with enviable determination, making it rather impossible to stay outside long after the sun reaches its zenith. So visiting and hiking to the tallest sand piles at the Mesquite Dunes after 10 a.m. is not recommended.

Death Valley - Roads and Destinations
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes adventure in Death Valley National Park

At the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Finally, after four hours on the road and by the time the temperature in Death Valley rose to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, we spotted the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Piling up in 100 feet hills, the famous dunes instantly tempted us. Burying our feet in its white sandy waves was irresistible.

But the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes had a big surprise for us. Pleasing to the eye, they were challenging, even dangerous to visit in the summer. The sand was extremely hot. Loose particles, as hot as blazing coals, filled my shoes in seconds. Touching my bare skin, they burned like a fire.

Oh man… That was a disaster! Visiting the Mesquite Flat Sand in the summer was the highest degree of ignorance.

Complying with a kicked-in survival instinct, I was vigorously shaking one leg after another in an 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…

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 “toasting”? Enduring the pain and scorching heat, I started running with my bare foot directly touching the agonizing sand. A few seconds later that felt like the longest minutes, I managed to rescue my shoe and consequently my foot.

Bucket List Destinations to Visit in California and Nevada - Roads and Destinations
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Never Visiting Death Valley in Summer Again

No longer after I put on my shoe, black circles started uncontrollably flashing in and flashing out in front of my eyes. First the unbearable heat, then seeing the black circles and even golden stars. Next would be fainting… It was as clear as day.

We had to get out of here as soon as possible.

As we were running back to our car parked right across the dunes – three minutes, no more than that, away – I kept telling myself, “It’s right there. It’s so close. Don’t faint.” Roshan’s self pep talk was completely different, “It’s so hot. Murder me.” I could not stop laughing out loud.

Back in the car, we turned on AC on the maximum and embraced the cold air. And then, all of a sudden, we started laughing. With exhilaration, without any restraints… With salty sweat dripping down our faces, we looked back at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and relived our short adventure once again.

How could we not admire them? So pristine and majestic! Such a beautiful place to be, but not in the summer.

Watch our latest adventure in Death Valley, including at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Visiting Mesquite Sand Dunes in Spring

We visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes a few years later. In early March, the temperatures were pleasant. But the desert wind blew across the open basins of Death Valley ferociously.

We enjoyed the sandy piles, but this time with caution. Even not as blistering hot as in the summer, the Mesquite Dunes were still a part of the untamed desert with raking dust storms above the surface and venomous rattlesnake dwelling in the burrows of the sand dunes.

Mesquite Sand Dunes - Roads and Destinations
Summer trip to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.