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High and Dry
Overview: A lovely hike up the highest sand dunes in California, located in an isolated valley in the northern part of Death Valley NP. The white Eureka Dunes rise abruptly from the valley floor with the colorful Last Chance Range providing a spectacular backdrop. Three endemic plant species and 5 endemic beetle species live on the active dune fields.
History: The Eureka Valley has much evidence of human activity. Obsidian, likely from the Ubehebe (meaning "big basket in the rock") Crater area, was transported to the Eureka Valley and worked into points. Flakes litter the lower, more stabilized surfaces of all the dunes in the valley.
In 1994, Death Valley National Park was expanded by 1.3 million acres, including the Eureka Valley. The Eureka Dunes have been protected from motorized vehicles since 1978, when two of the endemic plant species were listed as federally endangered.
Hike: There is no trail. There are many ways you could approach this hike, but the easiest is to follow the ridge lines to the peak. Off the ridge lines, the sand is steep and very loose, making it difficult to ascend. The lower slopes of the dune field are made up of semi-stabilized, rounded mini-dunes - like the foothills of a mountain range. As you climb higher, the dunes become much steeper and more unstable. At the top, stop and rest a moment after earning the view with some sweat. After reaching the peak closest to the south end of the dunes, you will see a second peak to your north. There is an ongoing disagreement about which of the peaks is highest, so go ahead and visit both. On the way down, be sure to run down the steepest slopes. If it is dry and you can get enough sand moving, you will hear the dunes sing! The sound is more like a low-pitched drone that resonates throughout your entire body. Just be careful not to step on or bury the plants growing on the dunes. They have a hard enough life as it is.
Warning: This hike is completely exposed and shadeless, so take plenty of water. In summer, your best choice would be a night hike under a full moon.
Camping: Designated camp sites are just off Eureka Valley Road at the base of the dunes. There is a pit toilet and fire rings at the camp sites.
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
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