Death Valley: Day 8

February 8, 2010

After the previous day’s rain, much of death valley was still a muddy mess.

I visited the Mesquite dunes to scout some shots.  I had 3 full days left on my trip, which would give the dunes ample time to dry. This would at least make an afternoon shot possible.  Morning shots would be difficult because the cool overnight tempertures draw moisture from the dunes.  They are wet in the morning, but they are often dry by afternoon.

Areas such as Coyote Buttes, and Zion National Park are comprised mostly of sandstone. If you look up at the towering cliffs above you in Zion National Park, you will see layers of stone that are laced together in opposing directions. This is known as cross bedding. Millions of years ago, these locations were covered in towering sand dunes. The dunes were compressed under the earth, and the sand became stone.

I mention this because these same patterns are visible in the Mesquite Dunes when they are wet.

In addition to cross bedding, Coyote Buttes features many sandstone fins. These fins are delicate, and also made out of sandstone. While wandering among the wet dunes, the low points would often fill with water. As the water dries, areas of compacted clay and sand are left behind. Several of these areas exhibited features that resemble the sandstone fins at Coyote buttes. I find it fascinating that these features are formed from just three ingredients: sand, water and time.

I first visited the west side of the dunes to check on an area that had some fascinating cracked mud texture. I was curious if it was underwater, or high and dry.  When I crested a nearby dune, I saw a lake.  I circled the lake to see if any interesting reflection shots were possible. The dunes in the background were not very dramatic, and I was not sensing that there would be a good shot here.

I ventured back to my truck, then drove a little ways down the road. I park my truck on the side of the road, and headed to the east side of the dunes. It was here that I spent most of the day wandering around — scouting for potential afternoon shots.  I found several excellent locations, and tagged them into my GPS.  I found 2 potential shots, but the conditions would not be ideal for several more days.  I needed the dunes to bake in the sun, and hopefully see a bit of wind.

The day went by very fast. Before I knew it, the sun starting its descent in the southwestern sky. It was time to head back to camp for dinner.

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