Central California / Death Valley / USA / USA National Parks

Catching a Sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Catching a Sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley, California

Sitting among towering sand dunes in the darkness as deep blues and pinks come to life in the sky is an experience of deep reflection. One of the things I love about sunrise photography is the pause before the moment. Getting to sit with your thoughts, the silence around you only interrupted by an occasional breeze gracing the surface of the sand, gives you a moment of stillness and appreciation. Catching a sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is perfect for photography, meditation, or just sheer appreciation of beauty.

Sun flare photography at the sand dunes in Death Valley
Sun flare photography at the sand dunes in Death Valley

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Best Time of Year to Visit Death Valley

The best time of year for catching a sunrise at mesquite flat sand dunes is in the cooler months of October through May. Avoid visits in the summer months, as the high temperatures and extreme climate can be very dangerous. In the summer, Death Valley can reach scorching temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius). On winter and spring days, you can expect to enjoy blissful sunny weather averaging at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius).

How to Prepare for Catching a Sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Plan Out Your Timing

What I wish I would’ve known before arriving to Mesquite Flat was how far I would have to wander out to get to the good dunes. If you’re looking to enjoy the overall view of the dunes in the distance, it can easily be done from your car in the parking lot. The first set of dunes within closest walking distance are the ones that are heavily foot-printed, and most likely full of other visitors during the day. For the smooth sand dunes with pristine curves and edges, expect to do some walking. If you’ve ever tried to run in sand, you know it’s not an easy task, especially if hauling your photography or photo shoot equipment with you, and especially if walking up and down hills of moving sand.

When planning for a sunrise or sunset, timing is key.

Colorful sky when catching a sunrise in Death Valley
Colorful sky when catching a sunrise in Death Valley

When planning for a sunrise or a sunset, timing is key. Be sure to give yourself 30-45 minutes of walking in the sand to explore and find the perfect spot for your photos. You don’t want to arrive just before sunrise and have to experience the changing shadows and dramatic sun-lit dunes from the parking lot. Wake up extra early and give yourself some time. You will not regret it. Plan to stay inside the park if you can to reduce your early morning drive. I stayed at the Ranch Hotel at Death Valley Oasis and it was awesome having a short driving distance to the sand dunes.

What to Bring for a Sunrise at Mesquite Flat

When catching a sunrise at Mesquite Flat sand dunes, be sure to bring a back pack with some supplies. Especially you’re planning to hike out to the more remote dunes, you want to be prepared.

  • Water. Bring plenty.
  • Flashlight. This is especially important when catching sunrise or sunset.
  • Towel. Unless you want to sit right on the sand, bring a towel for those relaxing moments. This also doubles at protecting your gear from getting covered in sand.
  • Sunscreen. From sun up to sun down, the sun can be harsh at the dunes.
  • Quality camera bag. When you’re sliding down dunes, the sand tends to fly. Be sure you have a bag with good quality zippers and closures to reduce the risk of sand getting on your equipment.
  • First aid kit. Best to be prepared.
Mesquite Flat Entrance in Death Valley
Entrance to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

What to Wear

Best Clothes for Sand Dunes

The benefit of visiting Death Valley in the winter and spring months is the great weather. If visiting in these months, you can plan on catching a sunrise at Mesquite Valley sand dunes in your summer shorts and dresses, but be sure to bring a sweater or blanket as well. The walk to the perfect dune is a bit of a workout, but once you take a seat on the cold sand and wait for sunrise, it can get a bit chilly.

Best Shoes for Sand Dunes

I think the best footwear for walking in sand dunes are sturdy sandals. Walking or hiking shoes are fine, but they will become buckets of heavy sand within seconds. Flip lops are unsteady and will keep getting pulled from your feet by the wight of the sand. Sandals that are strapped to your feet are best so they can protect you while letting the sand flow out. Going barefoot is cute for a few minutes, but, if you’re like me, that begins to hurt after a while, especially if the sand is really cold before sunrise or hot before sunset.

Sunset Photography in Death Valley
Sunset Photography at Death Valley Sand Dunes

Fun Facts About Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

  • The tallest sand dune at mesquite flat is over 100 feet tall
  • In the early morning, you may be able to spot animal tracks from the night before
  • It is the filming location for parts of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. For a full list of movies filmed here, check out the NPS article: Death Valley in Movies and Television
  • It is the only sand dune area of Death Valley in which sandboarding is allowed
  • Mesquite Flat is one of the five locations in Death Valley where you can find sand dunes
Catching a Sunrise or Sunset at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Catching a Sunrise or Sunset at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

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