Death Valley Part Deux

3 April 2012 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling


Ridge WalkingAwakening early and refreshed from a half day of leisure we headed over to the Mesquite Sand Dunes after breakfast. When we pulled into the parking lot we were surprised by its proximity to our campground. We could have actually seen it sitting at our camper, but it must have blended in amongst the varied desert palette.

Exiting the truck we walked fifty feet or so before we were treading deep, soft sand. We coincidentally had coincided our visit with a tour group and after hearing the guide state that all were free to remove their shoes at any time we promptly removed ours. The sand we amazingly fine, soft and cool between our toes. It felt so good to trod about this sculpted gallery of sand free of shoes and socks.

Beautiful DesertIn front of us, spanning from left to right were increasingly tall ridges of sand. If you removed the mountains in the distance you’d have you’re standard “lost in the Sahara Desert” scene from any number of movies. The dunes were finely carved by wind which picks up sand from the surrounding mountains and deposits it in this valley, and several others in the surrounding area. We would later hear from a ranger that on really windy days you could literally see the sand being carried in swirling and then drop like rain over the dunes.

Among several dunes there was one pinnacle that stood dramatically taller than the rest. So we made our way over and along several ridges towards this apex. Along the way we saw several tracks in the sand – from lizards to kangaroo rats (picture a mouse with giant hind legs like a kangaroo) to kit foxes which are dwarfed foxes about the size of a house cat. We also saw cracked and hardened beds peeking out between the dunes like a long covered patio of mortared flat stones. These we would later learn are the last remaining remnants of an ancient lake bed which is slowly being covered by sand.

Dan on Top of the WorldTrudging our way up, slowly through the sometimes ankle deep sand we made our way to the top. Here, about two hundred feet up we were afforded a wonderful view of the surrounding dunes. The curved ridges of sand were like the spines of sleeping dinosaurs. They lay beautifully sprawling out for miles. While we took in the view from atop this gorgeous perch we overheard the tour guide we had been shadowing state that it was a blast to run down the steepest side of this towering dune. Never one to shine away from a blast I secured my personal belongings and bounded down the dune. Midway down my feet were sinking in near knee deep in the soft sand and my speed had picked up substantially. It felt as though my steps were long bounds into the inviting cushion of sand. The impact was almost non-existent. At the bottom I promptly planted both feet to stop.

Hiking back Lindsay would try a few smaller hills at a slower speed. Her knee had been acting up here and there after hiking so she didn’t want to risk being laid up with a sore knee for the rest of our stay. One of the last small dunes I barreled down had the soft sand I was accustomed to at the top, but toward the bottom it hardened and threw off my strides. I ended up crashing down face first with a mouthful of sand.

After swinging back into home base and relocating to the non-hookup (and cheaper) portion of the campground we had a little lunch and then headed back out. This time our destination was Mosiac Canyon. A long gravel road led up to the entrance of a slot canyon set in the mountains.

From a distance the surrounding mountains appear loose and rough, like long abandoned massive piles of gravel, sand and various quarry materials left to harden and erode in the sun. But to our surprise, upon entering this canyon we were greeted by a layered cake of sorts consisting of marbleized limestone as smooth as a kitchen counter, sandstone, and this very strange mixture of a mud like substance sprinkled with varying sized chunks of rock. It was very weird at points you could see three distinct layers – the top containing large chunks of rock, the middle medium sized chunks and the bottom fine chucks. And there was a very, very distinct delineation between the three. All through the canyon were these strange pilings and layerings of different rock. It was almost as though some giant had taken a little bit of this and a little bit of that and dropped it down letting it roll, slide and layer.

In all of our travels we have never seen anything quite like this. We gathered from reading a few signs later that this layering effect is do to a combination of flash flooding, ancient volcanic activity, and movement in the fault line below.

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