The Eureka Dunes lie in the remote Eureka Valley, an enclosed basin at an elevation of 3,000 feet in northwest Death Valley. While the dunes cover an area only 3 miles long by 1 mile wide, rising to a height of 700 feet, they are the tallest sand dunes in California and possibly the tallest in North America. As tall as the dunes are, they are dwarfed by the impressive limestone wall of the Last Chance Mountains which rises another 4,000 feet above the valley floor.
A friend and I drove through the night from Stovepipe Wells to get to Eureka Valley for sunrise about a month after flash floods had devastated major sections of the Park in 2015. The drive took us five painstaking hours as we navigated through washed-out roads in total darkness – it is still one of the more harrowing drives I’ve ever done. We arrived at the Dune as the sun was coming up behind the mountain range . . . there were no glorious sun flares, no sunbursts, no golden orange halos along the tops of the mountains . . . just a dull pre-dawn light that left everything looking flat. After such an exhausting drive, I couldn’t have been more disappointed and frustrated. As my friend and I considered our options over a cup of coffee, the light of the morning sun began to rise over the top of the mountains, highlighting the shadows and golden textures of the sand dunes. Needless to say, the allure of the changing abstract textures and shadows kept us motivated for the next several hours. And to add even more irony to the story, this photo is one of my two photos selected for the year-long exhibition celebrating the 100 Year Anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.