Thursday, May 9, 2013

Desert Destination: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

On our last morning in Death Valley, we headed to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. The kids were ultra-excited, as playing in sand sounded like a really fun thing to do. We decided that our goal was just to get out on the sand. We didn't care how far we went. We purposely chose the morning so the sand and air would be cooler.

 On the way to the sand dunes, I couldn't help but admire the flowering creosote bushes, one of the trademark plants of the Mojave Desert.

 Some of the blooms were already turning to seed.

The kids quickly got out the digging tools (and a net, which they used as a sieve), and got to work. I'm not sure what they were making. I wandered around the nearby knolls examining the sand.

 I saw so many tracks, mainly insects, some lizards, some birds. Quite a few burrow holes were nestled near the roots of the creosote bushes. In some places the wind had uncovered the roots of the creosote, causing it to die. In other places the sand was slowly covering the creosote bushes. These are clearly active dunes.

For sand dunes to form, three things must be present: a source of sand (from the Cottonwood Mountains), prevailing winds (from the southwest), and a place for the sand to collect (often a place with mountains behind it that cause the air to lift and the sand to drop out of it).

 The sand dunes at Mesquite Flat cover a huge area, and soon Desert Boy decided he was done digging and wanted to get up to one of the taller dunes. The dunes here aren't super tall, about 130 feet max, but that is still tall in our book!

 So we headed that direction, stopping to play from time to time. Desert Girl liked having her feet buried.

 As we came across one dune, we found a whole tour bus filming something. It was such a surprise to see so many people so far out in the dunes!

These dunes have been popular in movies due to their easy access. Probably the most famous movie filed here is Star Wars.

 We eventually made it to the top of a tall dune (although not the tallest, we agreed that a tall one closer to us would be sufficient).

 Desert Boy was the first up, but he went back down to help his sister. Aw, how sweet!

 Climbing in sand is a bit of a workout, especially in the steeper sections!

 Almost up, even though it now requires crawling!

 Desert Girl poses with me.

Some other kids and their dad came up on the dune with us, and Desert Boy made friends with them and wanted to spend the whole day with them. He's good at making friends like that. He was so sad when they went their own way. We still had good times ahead, though, like running down he sand dunes.

We had so much fun at the dunes that it made me realize we need to go check out more sand dunes. Many people think of sand dunes when they hear the word desert, but sand dunes make up less than 1% of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts. Nevertheless, several are spread across the area (five sand dune fields in Death Valley alone), making for some interesting biological observations and a great deal of fun!

1 comment:

Chris said...

The kids and I have had a lot of fun at Sand Mountain just out of Fallon. That used to be a favorite place to take a break on the trip to Baker.

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