The Calm Before the Sandstorm (in Death Valley)

The Calm Before the Sandstorm (in Death Valley)

The road to Death Valley looked like a scene from an old Hollywood Western. Tumbleweeds bounced across the highway, and dust clouds swirled in the distance. They were ideal conditions for an amateur sandstorm chaser.

But as I inched closer to Death Valley on Saturday, something changed. The wind vanished. There wasn’t even a breeze by the time I reached Mesquite Flat. Mildly frustrated, I resisted the urge to turn back to LA. Instead, I decided to wait for the wind — as if it was a forgone conclusion.

While I waited, I hiked towards Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. As I approached the dunes, a dust cloud appeared on the horizon. It slowly consumed more and more of the valley until I was in the middle of an intense sandstorm. This was it.

Sandstorm at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

All of a sudden, I had new problems. I needed to protect my body and my camera from the sand. With few other options, I created a makeshift sandstorm suit using the hood of my jacket and a pair of $8 sunglasses that I purchased from a gas station in Lancaster. I then used my body to shield my camera from the wind, which proved difficult. The swirling wind seemed to come from every direction.

Despite some of the challenges, I was in heaven. The wind transformed the dunes into a dreamscape. Mesquite Flat seemed to glow as the setting sun illuminated the sand in the air. I fired off hundreds of photographs, and I emerged with a couple of print-worthy photos, including Sandstorm and The Golden Fan.

When the sun finally set, I walked back to my car with a huge smile on my face. It was an unforgettable experience. Little did I know that I picked up an unwanted souvenir from the trip. Beyond the photos, I — inadvertently — brought home about a pound of sand from Mesquite Flat. In fact, I’m still finding sand in my clothes almost a week later.

Sunset in Death Valley

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