Two for Tuesday: Forming Sand Dunes   14 comments

Recently I spent a few days at a dune field I’ve been wanting to photograph for quite some time.  With a great name (Ibex Dunes) and a fairly remote location in the far southern part of Death Valley National Park, California, they are a natural magnet for someone like me.  A bonus: nearby Saratoga Springs gives rise to a large wetland, attracting birdlife and hosting a number of endemic species, including pupfish.

I was there long enough to see a windstorm move through, out ahead of a big rain and snow storm that hit southern California this past week.  It was one of many this winter that are related to El Nino.  That gave me the idea to do a Two-for-Tuesday post.

Sand dunes are a bit like glaciers.  They move and evolve over time.  Glaciers are under the influence of gravity combined with year-on-year snow in their higher reaches.  The driver of a dune field is the wind combined with a steady supply of sand.

For the Ibex dunes, there is a large valley with fine sand and salty sediments west of a range of craggy peaks.  The prevailing winds are from the west, so they pick up that sand and essentially throw it up against the mountains.  Anywhere wind is forced by topography to change direction it slows down, potentially dropping it’s load of sand.


Wind moves sand over the Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park.

The great thing about wind and sand dunes, at least for fans of texture and shape in nature, is that not only does the wind bring in new sand, but re-sculpting takes place as well.  Footprints are erased, ripples and ridges are sharpened, curves are smoothed.

In open terrain dunes move along, driven by the wind.  For the Ibex Dunes, eastward movement is arrested by the mountains.  But you can see how dunes have migrated up onto the alluvial fans and to the north (where with a decrease in sand supply, they are smaller and partly stabilized by vegetation).

If you get the chance to visit sand dunes in wind, don’t miss it.  The sand in your hair is a minor inconvenience compared to the opportunity to see dune formation in action.  Thanks for looking and happy shooting!

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

14 responses to “Two for Tuesday: Forming Sand Dunes

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  1. MJF: Must say Wow to all those beautiful views. Breathtaking!

  2. Wow, what stunning and atmospheric pictures….just beautiful. I love the first image with it’s mystery. I had my fill of sand when I was out in UAE…but wasn’t in the frame of mind for photographing…you’re making me feel I could revisit some sand for artistic purposes!!

  3. Such a desolate landscape, Michael! All it needs is a caravan of camels. Wonderful photos (goes without saying) but I’m also very interested to hear how you protect your gear in such a sandstorm?

    • Thanks a bunch Dries! In those kinds of situations I get the lens I want on there inside the vehicle and don’t change lenses outside. Then I just assume the camera body and also the sensor will need cleaning afterward. With the salt in that environment it’s just plain hard on all equipment. It shortens the working life of it just as if you were shooting in the surf a lot. But careful cleaning can mitigate somewhat.

  4. That second photo is very good, nice subtle light. Dunes seems like a naturally great subject – clean lines, simple, nice shadows. I hit the Mesquite Dunes once, that’s a pretty good place too, as I’m sure you know.

  5. Have to agree with Sarah. Love that second image. Your eye is really drawn in to the sun tipped mountains.

  6. The composition of that second image is fantastic!!

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