Death Valley National Park: Part 4

death valley artists palette

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.
death valley artists palette
artists palette death valley

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).

death valley

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.
death valley artists palette

death valley artists palette
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.


ND Grad filter - graduated neutral density filter

  1. at | #1

    One of these days I’ll run out of superlatives for your images, Rick.

    • Rick
      at | #2

      Oh goodness Sue I promise not to be bored if you want to start using them over again :-)))))

  2. at | #3

    Absolutely stunning, Rick! The early-morning photo is certainly my favorite, however I enjoyed them all very much; looking forward to your next post.

    • Rick
      at | #4

      Thanks SO much Jules. There is something so magical, quiet and peaceful about the early morning isn’t there. I’m glad to hear you enjoy it too. ~Rick

  3. at | #5

    Well done Rick. –Curt

    • Rick
      at | #6

      Many many thanks Curt, and much appreciated especially coming from someone who loves Death Valley as much as you. ~Rick

  4. at | #7

    Stunning images, Rick. And as usual, I love the narration of the area and what it took to get the shots. 🙂

    • Rick
      at | #8

      It is always such a delight to hear from you Lori and I’m delighted you’re enjoying this series 🙂 ~Rick

  5. at | #9

    Beautiful! Magical! Surreal!

    • Rick
      at | #10

      Many many thanks. It makes me happy knowing that Nature’s magic shows through. 🙂

  6. at | #11

    What beautiful images – they are stunning!

  7. at | #13

    Enchanting, mystical, magical…need I say more? I would love to see these images large-scale, hanging in a gallery. They are exquisite Rick. 🙂

    • Rick
      at | #14

      Hi LuAnn. Funny you should say that because just last week I decided to include several of these in a national traveling exhibition I’m creating featuring images of America’s National Parks that will be in a number of cities across the US during 2016-2017. I’m deeply honored by your compliment and pleased as can be that you are enjoying the images. { } Rick

  8. at | #15

    Your images are convincing me to give Death Valley another chance… only time my visit better this time around. You do some astounding work.

    • Rick
      at | #16

      Well I couldn’t be happier than to hear the images/text might have helped to balance that negative experience you had on your holiday visit there Gunta. It can be a magical place, but of course it does depend on the season of the year, whether or not it’s a holiday, and the one thing we can never completely prepare for–the weather. I’d heard before I went, for example, that the wind can be wild at times and strong enough to create white out conditions. And, that happened one day when I was there. The great benefit of that was that all that wind washed away the footprints from all the sand dunes which helped make for those luscious looking dunes that I photographed the next day and that you see in the images on this post. { } rick

  9. at | #17

    Gorgeous! Magical! Stunning!

  10. at | #19

    I agree with LuAnn! Exquisite, magical, amazing…

    • Rick
      at | #20

      You (and LuAnn) are so very very kind, and I deeply appreciate it. Many thanks Amy.

  11. at | #21

    Mastery, indeed, to bring such beauty and life to desert landscapes…

    • Rick
      at | #22

      I deeply appreciate your kind words Carol. Thanks! ~Rick

  12. at | #23

    Wow you really made those dunes sing! And I love the tune.

    • Rick
      at | #24

      THERE REALLY ARE SINGING SAND DUNES! Thanks SO MUCH for that great comment Lyle. It’s so perfect you’d use that phrase because they actually have a sand dune there in the park called Eureka Dunes which “sings” and produces an incredible harmonic sound that can give you tingles. National Geographic did a small piece on it and here’s the link if you’d like to see what I’m talking about. ~Rick

  13. at | #25

    What a rather special place! It radiates such a sense of calm and beauty. Thanks for your very atmospheric photos, Rick! The light is magical and in combination with the gorgeous landscape it’s simply breathtaking. – Michèle

    • Rick
      at | #26

      A special place it is Michèle and one of only a handful of large sand dunes in the States. I don’t know of any in Germany but I have often wanted to visit the Great Dune of Pyla in France. Have you had the opportunity to visit there? ~Rick

  14. at | #27

    What a beautiful place! And your images are serene, otherworldly.

    • Rick
      at | #28

      Because so many think of it only as a dry, barren and harsh landscape Tiny, I wanted to show the other side of nature here and am delighted that you could see that in the images. Many thanks. ~Rick

  15. at | #29

    I think these are some of the most beautiful work I have seen of yours. My favorite light is always early morning but then I’m a morning person. We went to the Everglades again today and I remembered the beauty of seeing the sun rise over the grass landscape when I went last year. Pure magic.

    • Rick
      at | #30

      Oh Pat, I’m deeply touched by your comment on the images. Thank you my friend. Truly. The Everglades is a fabulous place too, isn’t it. In some ways because of its water, trees, animals, etc. it’s almost the opposite of Death Valley and in that sense, just as stunning to visit, experience with your heart, and capture with the camera. I hope the rest of your stay down there is filled with beautiful weather, light and joy. ~Rick

  16. at | #31

    Wonderful shots… Gorgeous…

  17. at | #33

    Love it! Making lemonade out of the oranges Mother Nature throws at you! 🙂

    • Rick
      at | #34

      She does make some tasty treats for us to enjoy, doesn’t she Gunta. ~Rick

  18. jim brennan
    at | #35

    Your work is mesmerizing.

    • Rick
      at | #36

      Many thanks Jim. It does look a little bit different than Scranton, PA doesn’t it! ~Rick

  19. at | #37

    Dear Rick, your work comes from your heart and is heartfelt by those of us who share it with you…beautiful. <3

  20. Di
    at | #38

    Beautiful images!! I love them all. : )

    • Rick
      at | #39

      Thanks Di. Knowing that makes me smile 🙂

  21. at | #40

    Rick, thanks a lot for your kind reply to my recent commentary. No, I have not yet been at Pyla to see the largest dune of Europe, but I really would love to do so! If you’re going – don’t forget to share your photos here! ^^
    In Germany there are some regions where you can find a couple of smaller inland dunes. Some larger dunes exist at the coast (North Sea and Baltic Sea) but particularly on the North sea islands (Sylt, Amrun or for example Spiekeroog etc.) They are not as large as the dunes you showed us here on your blog but we love them too. ^^

    • Rick
      at | #41

      It is so great to hear back from you Michèle. I have had the pleasure of visiting in Germany several times but always to the Allgäu and Eifel regions. The Baltic Sea region is one place I have always wanted to visit and now you have given me an extra incentive to do that. Also, not that I think about, you live MUCH closer to those sand dunes near the North and Baltic Seas so if you get there before I do, I will be anxious to see some photos 🙂

      Tschüss, Tschüssi (eine Sprache ist niemals genug!) ~Rick

  22. at | #42

    Aaah, that’s why it somehow felt familiar when I looked at these mesmerizing images… May the force be with you, Rick! 😉

    Much love,

    • rickbraveheart
      at | #43

      Yes, it’s like a place “in a galaxy far far away!” Oh yes, and Möge die Macht mit Dir sein! ~Rick

  23. at | #44

    You have inspired me to go and spend some time photographing our Spirit Sands dunes at Spruce Woods Provincial Park here in Manitoba. A wonderful desert area with great sand hills and interesting species found only here. I’t’s been years since my last visit. There are great walks along the ridge overlooking the Assiniboine River valley.

    • Rick
      at | #45

      It sounds like a wonderful place Rod and somewhere that I’d love to visit as well. If/when you go I hope you will post some photos on the blog. I’m always looking to add new places to my “must visit” list. 🙂 Rick

  24. at | #46

    Oops, just as I was pressing submit comment I saw I had written inside – instead of inspired sorry.

    • Rick
      at | #47

      Oh like I’ve never done that myself 🙂 I’ve just fixed it up.

  25. at | #48

    @JustRod INSPIRED not INSIDE

  26. at | #49


    My only experience with “real” sand dunes (as opposed to our beach dunes) was at White Sands. Your superb series on Death Valley brings back cherished memories of cool sand under a full moon, ethereal shapes seeming to change before our eyes, youthful exuberance expressed by sliding down the loose sand formations, flora and fauna which have adapted to the eternal whiteness of their world.

    Thank you!

    • Rick
      at | #50

      Like you Wally I enjoy Florida’s sand dunes (more like sand mounds) because there is a gracefulness to them that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the surrounding beach and water. But at White Sands that’s another story isn’t it. With the entire national monument consisting of dunes there is nothing else to fight for your visual attention. And, while it too can be popular with visitors during the year, very few travel within the dunes but instead remain near the main road. Walking just a few hundred feet into the dunes will usually lead you to pristine dunes and a solitude that permeates your entire body. And, it is the place where I was honored to make that photo of the moon rising over the sand dunes (below) that you commented on several months ago. Even looking at it now takes me back there instantly. Sending you and Gini my best wishes. ~Rick

      Moon Over White Sands
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