Sand Dunes of the Southwest

Mesquite Flat Dunes, CA

Mesquite Flat Dunes

Olsen Family Photo

Death Valley’s best known and most accessible sand dunes are found just a few miles from Stovepipe Wells. The Mesquite Flat Dunes are easy to spot and just a short walk from Hwy. 190. Nevertheless, this is an extensive dune field that covers a vast area and contains three different types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. While the converging winds constantly shape and reshape individual sand dunes, the dune field itself does not move.

The tall dunes, located farther from the highway, will be a longer walk to access. The tallest dune is about 130 feet (40 m) at its crest, but this is small compared to other dunes in the area which have sand depths of up to 600-700 feet (180-210 m). The largest of the Mesquite Flat Dunes is called Star Dune. It is relatively stable and stationary because it is at a point where the various winds that shape the dunes converge.

Winds blowing through this area are slowed down by the changing shape of the valley. The weakened winds are then blocked by the mountains which nearly surround the dunes on all sides, and over which the winds cannot carry the sand any farther. The primary source of the tiny grains of quartz and feldspar is probably the Cottonwood Mountains which lie to the north and northwest.

In between many of the dunes are stands of creosote and some mesquite living in the cracked clay of an ancient lakebed which forms the valley floor. Mesquite used to be the dominant plant here before the sand dunes, but creosote does much better in the sand dune conditions. The mesquite trees have created large mounds of vegetation that provide stable habitats for wildlife.

Mesquite Flat Dunes

Google Earth image

References:
http://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/parks/deva/ftdune1.html
http://www.panamintcity.com/sanddunes/mesquitedunes.html
http://www.palomar.edu/geology/DVWeb.htm

Website design and content (c)2010 by Peter Olsen. This educational unit study was my PVCC honors project for GPH 211 Landform Processes.