Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The dunes in Death Valley are famous for several reasons; they form a sandy island in an otherwise "empty" desert landscape, and they move all the time as the wind pushes the sand around.

Mesquite Flat Dunes
These dunes are the best known and easiest to visit in the national park. Located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells, access is from Hwy. 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Although the highest dune rises only about 100 feet, the dunes actually cover a vast area. This dune field includes three types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. Polygon-cracked clay of an ancient lakebed forms the floor. Mesquite trees have created large hummocks that provide stable habitats for wildlife.

The climb to the summit of the dunes is not an easy walk. All the slopes are steep and the loose sand gives way beneath your feet. At the top, the sweeping view seems reward enough for your efforts, yet if the sand is completely dry, you may experience one of the strangest phenomena to be found in the desert, singing sand. When the sand avalanches down the steepest face of the highest dune, a sound like a bass note of a pipe organ or the distant drone of an airplane can be heard emanating from the sand. If the dune is at all damp (even though it may not feel so to the touch), no sound will be made. Why this occurs is not fully understood, but it may have something to do with the smooth texture of the sand grains and the friction of those grains sliding against each other.

1 comment:

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