Since Death Valley is known as the hottest place on Earth, most people tend to imagine it covered in sand. However, only about 1% of the valley is made up of sand dunes, while the rest has a wide variety of materials including salt, clay, and plain old dirt. That being said, the sand dunes in Death Valley are some of the most striking parts of the park and we highly recommend visiting them if you take a trip there.
There are a few conditions that make Death Valley a great place to see sand dunes, which normally form near the ocean or as part of a greater desert. The process begins in the mountain ranges on either side of the valley. Over the course of millions of years, the rock in the mountains is eroded by wind and water, creating canyons. Since the canyons are at a higher elevation, the debris removed by erosion travels downhill, ending up in the valley itself. There, the mountain ranges block wind from entering the valley, trapping the sand there and allowing it to accumulate. There are only a handful of places in Death Valley where this process can occur, but each one is strikingly beautiful in its own way.
The most popular dunes are in Mesquite Flat, but our personal favorites are the Eureka Sand Dunes tucked away in the northwest corner of the valley. Reaching up to 700 feet high, these are the tallest dunes in North America. If you’re quiet and listen carefully, they’re also a great place to hear singing sand. As the sand slips down the side of the dunes, the friction of the grains can create a low, eerie hum. There are only about 35 locations in the entire world where you can experience this phenomenon, and each one has its own unique frequency.
Make the most of your trip to Death Valley by checking out our Death Valley Self-Guided Driving Tour. More prolific travelers might also be interested in Action+, a yearly subscription that includes access to all 100+ of our US tours.