Eureka Dunes In a remote corner of Death Valley National park, a place of solitude and beauty.

Eureka Dunes is little-known, remote and empty.

In other words, "It's perfect!".

I have to admit it. I'm biased. I love deserts. But this bit of desert is special.

It's a long, bumpy, empty road, but the journey to Eureka Dunes is well worth the time and discomfort. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, it's remote. And that’s a good thing. It means that you might have this remote desert valley all to yourself. I've made the trip to Eureka Dunes half a dozen times over the years, usually in springtime, and it never disappoints.

The access road itself, while rough and dusty, is negotiable by a regular car and any competent driver. But there are rules. Drive slowly. Be prepared. Take everything you need, because there's nothing there.

Allow two or three hours to drive from Big Pine to Eureka Dunes. Only the last third of the distance is not paved.

At the turnoff from Death Valley Road, you can see the dunes in the distance, barely ten miles away. Curb your enthusiasm. You're not there yet. In fact, you're still an hour away from digging your toes into the soft sand of Eureka Dunes. That's right. Ten miles, one hour. You can do it faster if you like, but the faster you drive, the greater the risk of damage to your vehicle, and in particular, your tires. The road surface isn't gravel, it's mostly rock. Sharp, jagged, nasty rock, and it'll kill your tires. Do you have spare? Have you practiced changing it? You should, because help is far, far away. And if and when it arrives, it'll be very expensive. In fact, most regular travelers in these parts carry two spares. But don't worry. Even if you're driving a city vehicle, if you drive responsibly, slowly, carefully, you'll arrive intact. And when you do, you'll be glad.

Here, at the dunes campsite, there are a few picnic tables, some fire rings and a pit toilet. That’s it. There’s no food, no water, no services, no fees. And, if you’re lucky, nobody else.

You'll camp right at the foot of the highest dunes in California.

Bettered in height only by the dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Eureka dunes offer what other dune fields in America lack: Solitude. If you're fortunate, you'll arrive after a windstorm and the only footprints you'll see will be your own.

Equally impressive as the dunes themselves is The Last Chance Range. These mountains cradle the dune field to the east and provide a spectacular amphitheater-like setting.

I found this feature in the midst of the dunes where nobody but me had walked for some time. I speculate it was formed by a small whirlwind. Certainly no human made it.

Being ready means that you need to be up there in those dunes when the time and light is right, and that involves what may be the most difficult aspect of dunes photography: climbing them. Endurance runners train in sand dunes because it’s such a good workout. The old rule of “two steps forward, one step back” is the law in the dunes and I’m usually pretty tired after a few hours on the sand.

If you're really lucky, as I was on this day, you'll have your own private airshow. A relatively common occurrence in springtime, this pair of F-18s saw me and gave me a special treat. Thanks, America!

The dunes are hard on photographers and hard on camera gear. With the help of their eternal partner the winds, the endlessly shifting sands, get in to every crevice of both camera gear and photographers. Cleaning camera bodies is fairly easy. Cleaning human bodies, not so much. Plenty of water for drinking, cooking and washing is an absolute necessity. Count on several gallons per person per day in hot weather. Even in early April, daytime temperatures can be more than 30 degrees Celsius - hot enough to be dangerous unless you stay hydrated.

It's a difficult journey - one that's hard on vehicles, cameras and humans alike, but it’s worth it. It’s worth every discomfort, every sore muscle, every thirsty moment. Even if the light is poor and the skies uncooperative, even if the photographs aren’t portfolio material and the food is less than gourmet, you get to actually be there. You get to experience the total and absolute silence of the desert. And that’s the real reason to visit Eureka Dunes. The photographs are just souvenirs. The real treasure is the experience.

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Created By
Peter Mclennan


Photos by the author

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