Death Valley, The Oxymoron
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Wednesday, March 16, 2016
By Gregory B. Cuvelier
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            Have you ever felt like every time you take three steps forward you fall back two steps? Well that is literally what it feels like when you are climbing a 100-foot sand dune in Death Valley. Especially during the day, when the sand is hot and seems to collapse under your feet with every step you take. Many of the closest dunes are riddled with evidence of people walking on them. To get a pure dune, you have to walk a mile or two out. By most standards, that is a fairly mild trek but when you consider the heat, travelling up and over several dunes to get to the pure dunes, it requires some effort. When travelling over the highest dunes, as you approach the apex, you often need to make the final part of the climb on your hands and knees. However, once on top of a clean dune, your efforts will be rewarded with breath taking views.


            I started my hike around 5:00 pm to avoid the intense heat of the day knowing I wanted to stay until midnight. My objective was to photograph the dunes during sunset, the rising stars and then later in the evening the rising moon. As enchanting as the dunes are, when darkness arrives and you find yourself alone on top of a dune with no light, the experience can be exhilarating yet slightly daunting. The first thing you will notice is that the temperature starts to drop significantly. Then, as darkness arrives, you start to lose your bearings. It becomes hard to see until your night vision adapts, and you may begin to question yourself. Was this a good idea? Do I know how to get back to my car? Next, the coyotes will start howling in the surrounding foothills and mountains. At first, this may send a chill up your spine, but after awhile you start to enjoy their song. It also promotes further reflection that there is life in Death Valley, hence the oxymoron. In addition to the coyotes, there are fox, bobcats, and mountain lions. For these animals to exist, they need a food source such as moles, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits. If you’re lucky, you may see desert big horn sheep as well. Furthermore, El Nino has provided an abundance of wild flowers in the valley this year as well, so you see life exists in Death Valley despite the ominous name. So, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover or a person by their appearance, you shouldn’t judge Death Valley by its name.



"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." ~ Robert Frost 



            However, these thoughts soon pass through your mind as you see the big dipper rise above the dunes. Let me tell you, being on top of a 100’ sand dune in pitch darkness, listening to the coyotes howl, and watching the big dipper rise is an experience you will never forget. Now, for those who feel that is a little extreme, you can almost have the same experience with a 100’ trek from the parking lot, but the sand dunes will not be pristine.




            Join me next winter when I travel back to Death Valley and see the beautiful new sand dune formations. Each experience is unique and the only constant in Death Valley is change. I look forward to seeing you on a future workshop tour.




Leave a comment:
Greg Cuvelier - Oh come-on Dave, where is your spirit of adventure? Just kidding. However, I would recommend spending sometime in the parking lot next to the dunes after sunset. Death Valley has some of the darkest skies on earth. If the moon is out, you will see the dunes bathed in beautiful light. If it is a new moon, the stars will put on a show like you haven't seen before. I am so excited for you. Have a great trip and we will see you when you arrive.

Dave - Can't wait to experience ourselves in a couple of weeks...but I can guarantee we will not be making any midnight treks into the desert!
Greg Cuvelier - Thanks for your comments Kevin. You and Ann have a place to stay anytime you want to come out and visit. The weather is amazing. I hope all is well with you and your family.

Greg Cuvelier - Thank you so much Alex. I appreciate your comments and feedback.

Kevin Evans - I felt like I was there with you, nice job! Thanks Kevin
Alex - Wonderful shots. The big dipper is impressive! Your description makes death valley seem enticing!!