Eureka Sand Dunes
There are two major sand dune systems in the Death Valley National Park. First, Stovepipe Well Sand Dunes, which have very easy access, and are well known and frequently visited. Second, the more secluded and much less visited Eureka Sand Dunes. Both are worth a visit, although I personally prefer the latter. The reason for that is simple; they are less crowded and therefore have less footprints. Depending on how deep you go into these sand dunes you might even have the feeling of having the entire place for yourself.
As with anything else in the Death Valley, summer is clearly to hot! The best time of the year is Spring when flowers are blooming, although this does not necessarily happen every year. A good site to check for the right timing of wildflowers in the Death Valley before you start your trip is here. Autumn and winter can also be quite an interesting time to see these sand dunes, but be prepared for cold nights if you plan stay overnight. Given the long drive to Eureka Sand Dunes, planning to overnight there is good advice.
There are two ways to get to the Eureka Sand Dunes. One has the access from inside Death Valley National Park and is 50 miles from Ubehebe Crater which is located in the northern part of the Park. The other access is a straight shot from highway US 395 starting at Big Pine. This route is also 50 miles long, but has certainly the better road. Personally, I prefer the route coming from Ubehebe Crater as I make a combo of Racetrack, Ubehebe Crater and Eureka Sand Dunes after exploring the more southern portion of the Park. However, you can do the same combo by coming from Big Pine. However, if you just want to target the Eureka Sand Dunes I recommend doing this coming from Big Pine and returning the same route back to highway US 395.
To have a better graphical idea of these two routes I recommend clicking on the map below. I included the exact locations of the Ubehebe Crater, Scotty’s Castle and the Racetrack with its famous moving rocks to allow you a better overview of what is hidden in that area. Soon I will complement my travelogues with a detailed description of the route to the Racetrack. Be advised already now, that the trip there is highly trecharous. The ideal is to drive a 4WD with high clearence and two spare tires as the stones on the road are quite sharp. I have seen several times people with sliced tires at the road side. On the other hand I drove to Racetrack last time with my Mini Cooper and did not have any troubles, although I do not recommend anyone to repeat this craziness
Sand dunes are best photographed with early or late sunlight. That is the moment where you get contrast between the sand and its ripples. The same principle applies to demarcate the dunes among themselves. A lot of this requires some previsualization to set your camera and tripod at the right place until the light hits the scene and gives you the desired effect. Depending on how deep you want to hike into the sand dunes this might mean getting up very early to hike in or a late return to your car or tent to hike out. Remember that walking in the sand and specially walking up sand dunes is not a very easy task.
To use a tripod in the sand dunes I recommend you take three tennis ballswith you. Slice them partially open to insert each leg of your tripod in a ball. This little trick will help you to stabilize the tripod on the sand much easier. The same obviously is applicable at shooting on sand at a beach.
My personal feeling is that late afteroon gives you the better setting to photograph the Eureka Sand Dunes in a true panoramic wide angle shot. Place yourself southwest of the dune system and have the sun in the back and the sand dunes ahead of you with the mountain range behind the sand dunes. If you follow this advice during Spring you even might have the luck to find a nice desert flower as a great foreground and introducing element for your image.
Last update: Jan. 19, 2011