Eureka Sand Dunes

Eureka Valley was high on my list of ‘must see’ places while residing near the Eastern Sierras, as the opportunity to photograph sand dunes so close to home base was calling me. One of the entrances to Death Valley juts off the road to Deep Springs – but with a big CLOSED sign that’s been there for as long as I’ve been here in Owens Valley. So it was a pleasant surprise that while talking with a librarian at the local library, he mentioned that he would be traveling out to the sand dunes over the Thanksgiving weekend. He assured me that the road to Eureka was not closed, only the continuing road into Death Valley. So armed with all my lenses, lots of food and water, I traveled the approximately 65 miles to Eureka Valley.

The road through the mountains was gradual with not too many hairpin turns or blind corners. Harvey could have made it just fine without too much of a strain. But it was just Tracker and I making the trip. I passed so many different types of rock formations – if I was a geologist, I’d be in pig heaven.

Through the pass
Through the pass

The paved road turned into gravel and dust after the pass. Around 15 of the miles were through the valley floor, continuing to the lowest part of the valley. Tracker was white instead of bronze when I left the valley later! I passed a Caltrans truck sitting alongside the road coming through the pass, then he passed me just before the turn off to Eureka Valley. I stopped and watched his dust disappearing down the valley. The air was so still that it took a long time before it dissipated enough for me to see clearly. I traveled several miles, then noticed that the dust cloud was coming back toward me. The driver had dropped off his passenger who then brought a road grader back out of the valley. I didn’t see either one (or anybody else) for the rest of the time that I was in the valley.

Where water had been, once upon a time
Where water had been, once upon a time

The sand dunes didn’t come into view until I was nearly at the end of the valley. The dunes cover an area three miles long and 1 mile wide. They rise to 680 feet above the dry lakebed at their western base. They are dwarfed by the limestone wall of the Last Chance Mountains – rising 4000 feet above the valley floor. I climbed the dunes about half way and decided that was high enough. Sloughing through the sand was not easy – kind of like walking on crusted snow; sometimes you can rely on staying on top, other steps fall into the soft sand, step after step. I’ve included some of the photos here, but more can be found by clicking on this link at (best viewed as a slide show).

Still almost a mile away
Still almost a mile away

I was using a tripod while on the dune, and also snapping pictures via time delay so as not to jiggle the camera while snapping the pictures. I had decided that it was time to hoist the tripod, camera and backpack and go back down when all of a sudden there was a huge roar of airplane noise coming from behind me, so after nearly peeing my pants in fright, (was a jetliner crashing on me???) I turned just in time to see two fighter jets at just about 400’, barely a half mile away, chasing each other down the valley. The noise was deafening! Of course because my camera was set for time delay, I didn’t get any pictures. A different jet came back later and I was able to snap a very poor photo of it.

Different fighter jet - the other two were black and smaller
Different fighter jet – the other two were black and smaller

View from the middle of the dune

All day long, storm clouds hovered over the north side of the valley, raining on the other side of the mountains. Since it looked pretty threatening and I was in the lowest part of the valley, I didn’t want to be caught in a flash flood. All that dust would turn into mucky mire. So instead of waiting for the full moon to rise in the east as I had planned, I started driving out of the valley around 2:00. Watching the storm was beautiful, and I was rewarded by a rainbow near the end of the valley. The clouds spit on me, but the rain never materialized.

Rainbow on east side of valley
Rainbow on east side of valley

5 Replies to “Eureka Sand Dunes”

  1. These pictures are beautiful, Barb. It is amazing that there are so few people there. You just can’t go anywhere around there to get the smallest taste of what real wilderness is.


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