Into the Desert
After a day of rest and organization, Sunday February 7th saw the Gaffney-Knoxes and I heading up along the snowy Sierra toward Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. We kept an eye on the weather as we headed up, since we could see rain flowing in curtains over the mountains to the east and west. Our plan was to hit the base of the Dunes and set up camp to hike them int he morning. On the way up we took a detour through the Alabama hills on Movie road to see the place where so many western films were shot. The clouds shrouded the peaks of the Sierra, so everyone had to take my word for it that a wall of granite thousands of feet high brooded over the strange rock shapes in the hills. Twilight was setting in as we turned right in Big Pine and headed up death valley road toward the dunes. It got darker and darker as we drove through the snowy Joshua Trees and night set in as we began the long descent into the valley with the dunes. It was completely dark when we rolled into camp, and so the next morning would be the big reveal of the dunes for the family. We set up our tents and then played with light painting under the tutelage of Pete, who used to teach a course int hos sort of thing. For those of you who don’t know light painting involves long exposures and doing tricky things with lamps or flashlights while the shutter is open. Anyhow, we had a great time doing that and eventually settled down to sleep.
The night was cold, the ground was hard, and I wasn’t used to sleeping out so it made for a restless night, but soon enough dawn rolled around and we started out day. Looking with anticipation to the dunes towering over the campsite, we made a little breakfast, organized ourselves and started walking up the dunes. The recent rain made the textures and shapes of the sand very different from their dry shapes. The ridge lines were rounded and firm instead of having sharp edges and falling away from the wind. Mottled shapes and patches of different coloured sands dominated instead of the monochromatic ripples of the summer sand. The firm footing resulting from damp sand made the climb up to the 700 ft peaks much easier then normal, but heading up steep sand faces is always going to be a slog. We stopped regularly to catch our breaths and take pictures, and finally topped out on the summit ridge. At the peak we set up a picnic area and were just settling in when Sarah’s knapsack made a break for freedom. It started rolling down the far side of the dunes, and though we kept expecting it to stop it just didn’t. On a somewhat flatter section halfway down the dunes it slowed down … and slowed ,,, and we hoped it would stop … and it just … kept … going … toward the next edge. Esker roared down the slope after it, hoping to catch it before it rolled on, but just out of his reach it hit the next steep and was gone. Esker vanished over the ridge after it and Pete headed down as well to keep him company. Eventually the emerged on a ridge well down the dune with the errant knapsack and trudged back up to us.
After some snacks we headed back down the dunes, which was the fun part. Running dunes can be an incredible experience and we grinned like idiots as we leaped and cavorted down the sandy ridges. Reaching the end of the crest line we zigged back along the dune face, and all too quickly we reached the bottom, panting and laughing.
Packing up the camp, which was festooned over the car airing out we hopped in the xterra and drove over the mountains to Death Valley Proper. After a long ride, stopping to see mud bound deserted mines, and deep volcanic craters, we rolled into camp at Stovepipe wells. We settled in as far from all the RVs as possible and then drove off to see some more dunes. The dunes at Stovepipe wells are not as high as the Eureka Dunes, and they are tracked over by many people each day so they are not nearly as scenic either, but we had a nice walk and did a little more jumping off the dunes as the sunset on our first day in Death Valley.