Sunday, January 30, 2011

The coming storm roiled over the Amargosa Range at sunset, giving the illusion that the mountains were on fire with 1000 foot tall wind whipped flames rising from the peaks. This seemed so far away from my perch atop a tall dune at Mesquite Flat. There wasn't a spot on the dune field that didn't have a footprint in it. Steep inclines and deep pits had all been tread on by visitors and there had been no wind to whipe away the evidence. It's what the moon would look like as a tourist destination. It was amazing to me that this place could stay so calm while stormclouds surged past on all sides.

As it got dark I started to make my way out of the dune field. The ground became pitch black before I found my way out and I had to follow the sounds of people in the parking area talking to find my way back to my car. They always seemed so close that I was sure they would be just over the next dune but I would always come to the crest just to find another expanse of darkness below. Luckily when walking on sand you almost always keep your feet at the same angle. If you're walking uphill, you dig your toes in and if you're walking downhill, you dig your heels in. This made it easy to climb up and down in the dark without fear of twisting my ankle if I hit an unexpected slope.

I finally got back to my car and started to drive to my campsite. As I pulled out onto the highway, the wind started to pick up. In the distance I could see a stream of taillights heading towards the park exit. As I continued to drive I lost sight of the other cars as the wind began to hurl sand and twigs accross my path. My headlights were no help other than to allow me to study the suspension of sand that I was driving through. I finally arrived safely at my campsite and listened as the wind continued to blow through the night.

The next morning, 25 miles from the dune field, I could already see sheets of swirling sand drifting through the air above the valley floor. I returned to the dune field to find all of the footprints of thousands of visitors finally erased and the dunes restored to a virgin state. I wondered how long it had taken for the entire field to become covered in prints the way that it had been. Considering that storms had been passing through the valley with unusual frequency that winter I would guess not long.

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