Even though we have been exploring Death Valley for several months now, there are still quite a few places we haven’t gone. Last week we headed for one that we wanted to cross off our list at the northernmost end of Death Valley – Eureka Dunes.
Getting to Eureka Dunes is a challenge because it is 50 miles of the most wash-boardy dirt road in the park. We didn’t want to take our truck – our suspension is built for towing heavy things, not driving on washboard roads – so we decided to rent a Jeep. Then the wonderful rangers we work with gave us the amazing present of a Jeep for a day. We were totally surprised at their gift, but they wanted to give us an adventure to say “thank you” for the hours we have worked and volunteered here at the Castle.
Monday we picked up the Jeep down at Furnace Creek so we saved two hours of driving, then first thing Tuesday morning we headed north to Eureka Dunes. Eureka Dunes are the highest sand dunes in Death Valley, rising 700 feet above the Eureka Valley floor. They are dwarfed, however, by the Last Chance Mountains that rise tall and dark above them.
It took us almost three hours to drive to Eureka Dunes. There were places where we drove up on the shoulder of the road because it was smoother than the road itself. The scenery was amazing. We drove over one pass, past a mine, and then were in the Eureka Valley.
After driving another 20 miles down the valley, we finally spotted the dunes, although they were still miles away. One of the reasons we headed out early was because of the high wind forecast for the day. Gusts up to 50 mph. We hoped to get there before the wind picked up. Unfortunately the wind started the really strong gusts just as we drove up to the dunes.
I had planned to hike to the top of the tallest dune, and Tom and I started up. But when we were at the first ridgeline, about halfway up the dunes, the wind was so strong that I got nervous about being blown off the dune. The sand was blowing so hard that it felt like our legs were being sand-papered. As soon as Tom said I could turn around (and he wouldn’t consider me a wimp) I did.
We decided to walk around the base of the dunes so I only had to fight the wind, not the height and sand. The dunes have a great deal of vegetation around them (for sand dunes) so it looked like it would be easier walking. However, we did not take into account the kangaroo rats and mice that build condos in the sand around the dunes. We would be walking on seemingly solid sand, when all of a sudden we would break through into a nest and the sand would be up to our knees.
After an hour, we gave up. I felt bad about driving all the way out to Eureka Dunes and only staying an hour, but the wind and the rats were against us. We really enjoyed the drive and the fabulous scenery.
We stopped at the RV for a potty break and to get some cold drinks, then we drove the hour back to Furnace Creek to return the Jeep and drove the hour back home afterward. Altogether we drove almost eight hours – and all within the confines of Death Valley National Park.
We don’t have many days left to explore the area, so we are very thankful to our coworkers for the present of the Jeep. We were able to get to an area that we had been wanting to go, but would never take the truck. And even though we didn’t hike much, it was still a fun day of exploring an out-of-the-way area.