The Mesquite Flat Dunes are, without a doubt, the easiest expanse of dunes to reach in all of Death Valley. Just off Route 190 a few miles outside of Stovepipe Wells, the dunes cover a wide area, yet rarely reach more than 100 feet in height. The dunes sit atop an ancient lake bed of cracked clay, which often makes an appearance in the valleys between the dunes.
I spent the better part of the afternoon in early November of 2015 exploring these dunes, and let me tell you, it is definitely NOT the easiest thing to walk along that sand. The dunes may be easy to get to, being right next to Route 190 with a large parking lot, but actually getting far enough into the dunes and away from where the crowds leave all their footprints is a bit exerting. Walking as close to the top of the dunes as possible is best, as this will leave your footprints most exposed to even the slightest breeze, erasing them as quickly as possible. But getting to the top of those dunes, and finding routes along the dunes to reach areas of interest, can be a workout.
The best time to visit any of the sand dunes in Death Valley, as a photographer, is after a windy day has had the chance to erase the footprints of previous visitors. Visiting during a windstorm can create photographic opportunities as well, particularly with scenes of backlit sand blowing off the peaks of the tallest dunes. That is if you can stand being sand-blasted while getting into position to capture the composition.
The day this image was made had started out rather blustery, but the winds calmed down as sunset approached. At least they calmed down at the surface; from the look of the clouds overhead, there were still some high winds blowing way up there.
The soft pink glow of the clouds in contrast to the deep blues of the shadowed mountains below grabbed my attention. The warm tones of the sand at the bottom of the composition mimic the tones of the sky.
This scene spanned the width of the valley looking north and required the use of the multi-image panorama technique to capture it all. In this case, nine vertical images covering an almost 180-degree field of view showing both the Panamint Mountains to the west and the Amargosa Mountains to the east, with the huge expanse of clouds stretched between. The images were later combined in the computer to create the final 3-to-1 aspect ratio image.