Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is another "must-see" in Death Valley. The highest dune sits at about 100 feet, and the entire area covers an area wide enough to explore for a few hours. My only other encounter with sand dunes was in Inner Mongolia, so I was really excited to go back. There's something uniquely enchanting about hiking barefoot at the end of a hot day.  When we stopped at the Visitor Center, the Park Ranger mentioned that they always try to encourage visitors to do the moonrise hike up the sand dunes, but very few actually do it. (No idea why!!)

Directions: Once you enter Death Valley, you will need to pay for a visitor pass at either Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Scotty's Castle, Stovepipe Wells, or one of the automated fee machines. From Stovepipe Wells, head west on Route 190 for a few hundred feet until you reach a sign for the Sand Dunes.

Best time to go: Right before moonrise during a full moon.

What to bring: Red light, blanket, jacket (if necessary), StarMap

When you enter the parking lot for the sand dunes, try to turn off your headlights while you prepare your gear so you don't blind the other visitors. A dim red light is nice to bring because the red preserves your night vision while still providing some source of light if you need it. I found that after 30 minutes, I was able to adjust to the darkness completely and didn't need any light. From the parking lot, just walk straight and head for the highest dune! There are no trails here, so you can really explore as much as you want. If you're afraid of getting lost, you can leave a light beacon at the parking lot. The entire area is so dark that it's easy to find your way back.

There was so much clarity in the sky, it was really the most amount of stars I have ever seen. We also saw an incredibly bright shooting star. It was so bright that we thought it was a nearby camera flash. My one picture really does no justice because I have no idea how to take photos in the dark. There are some really great photos on this blog and this site.