Death Valley National Park: Part 4
During my time at Death Valley National Park there were a great many locations which I found lovely, breathtaking, inspirational and/or physically challenging to visit (in a good way!). My most memorable of them all, and for me, the most beautiful, inspirational and photogenic were the sand dunes. There are four designated sand dunes located throughout the park: Eureka Dunes (in the north), Panamint Dunes (in the west), Ibex Dunes (in the south) and my most favorite, Mesquite Flat Dunes located in the center of the park.
Mesquite Flat Dunes
The most popular and most photographed destination in the park, and deservedly so, are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Located only 1 mile (1.6 km) down the road from Stovepipe Wells Village (with its motel, restaurant and RV/camping facility), it is also one of the easiest locations to visit in the park. And because of this, it can frequently be the busiest. Because of this, if you like solitude or having the place almost completely to yourself for photography, the best time to visit is very early or late in the day or at night.
The Mesquite Flat Dunes within the park are frequently written about in travel books and became even more popular when they were used for filming many of the scenes in the Star Wars movies. Because of their publicity, most visitors to these dunes are usually surprised that the main section spans a small area of roughly two square miles (5.2km2).
These dunes are located in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains in all directions. Because of this they are relatively stationary, stable and have remained in this same location for over millions of years. They are also somewhat short. Compared to the massive dunes of the Arabian Peninsula, Moracco, Libya and France, the tallest at Mesquite Flat Dunes rise only about 100 feet (30.5m).
Photographing the Dunes
While late day photography can produce pleasing results, because of the direction of the rising sun I found that the best time to photograph the dunes was around the time of sunrise. The soft morning light results in warmer colors and casts long shadows that can reveal even small details in the landscape. The second best time to photograph was late in the day but because the sun drops behind a distant mountain long before sunset, the window for good photography is brief.
The light during mid-day in the dunes is far to bright for good photography and results in images that look flat and washed out. Similarly, because the dunes are so popular with daytime visitors, it’s nearly impossible to find an area that is not dotted with people nor one covered in footprints. Because of the frequently clear and dark skies nighttime and moon light photography also works well here.